LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a bitterly contested right-to-work plan limiting the power of unions, a devastating and once unthinkable defeat for organized labor in a state considered a cradle of the movement.
Unswayed by Democrats' pleas and thousands of protesters inside and outside the state Capitol, the House approved two final bills, sending them on to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. One dealt with public sector workers, the other with government employees. Both measures cleared the Senate last week.
measures will make Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. Supporters say they give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labor by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.
"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said. "These are basic American rights -- rights that should unite us."
Democrats offered a series of amendments, one of which would have allowed a statewide referendum. All were swiftly rejected.
"This is the nuclear option," Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat from Taylor. "This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions. And it will have personal hard feelings after this is all said and done."
Protesters in the gallery chanted "Shame on you!" as the measures were approved. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting, "No justice, no peace."
Rev. Jesse Jackson and approximately 70 people sat on the floor in the Capitol Rotunda after the House approved one of two bills. A few hours before the vote, thousands of people led by police marched west on Michigan Avenue to the seat of state government.
Statement from US Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich:)
“I have previously criticized Gov. Snyder for his sudden, last-minute change of position on so-called ‘right to work’ legislation. His switch directly contradicts his promise to avoid divisive issues and his promise to bring Michiganians together. That reversal was bad enough. Now, he is misleading Michigan voters when he says these bills are designed to protect workers from being required to join a union, or that they ‘give workers freedom to choose who they associate with.’ They already have those protections in current law, and after our meeting yesterday, Gov. Snyder full well knows it.
“For millions of Michigan workers, this is no ordinary debate. It’s an assault on their right to have their elected bargaining agent negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions, and to have all who benefit from such negotiations share in some way in the cost of obtaining them.
“The governor’s reversal and his misleading language aren’t about workers. It’s about politics. It is deeply unfortunate that the governor and other Republicans in Lansing have put politics ahead of the collective bargaining rights of Michigan workers.”
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Michigan is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification.