Thousands of protesters took to the streets Tuesday as Michigan legislators quickly debated whether or not to pass right-to-work legislation and voted for the measure despite the opposition from angry crowds outside the Capitol.
More than 12,000 workers gathered around the state Capitol in Lansing, marching in freezing temperatures to show their opposition to the legislation that passed despite their efforts. In a 58-41 vote by the Republican-dominated House to approve a Senate version of the law, Michigan became the 24thstate to take a strike against organized labor with the right-to-work law.
“This is being done politically, rushed through with very little debate – I don’t think many legislators have seen the law,” Ronald Zullo, a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Labor and Industrial relations, told the Los Angeles Times hours before the GOP-dominated legislature voted for the right-to-work legislation.
The Michigan House and Senate within hours on Thursday introduced and approved bills prohibiting “closed shops”, which require workers to join a union or pay fees equivalent to union dues as a condition of employment. Legislators debated and passed the law quickly on Tuesday.
Before and after the rushed decision, angry workers tore down tents used by right-to-work supporters, held up signs and chanted in opposition to the measure, and marched on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office in the snow-frosted city. Two Michigan school districts were forced to close for the day after too many teachers called out to participate in the protests.
“I do think this is a very sad day in Michigan history,” Valerie Constance, 57, told the Associated Press.
“People don’t understand the labor movement,” said protester Sharon Mowers, 54. “They don’t understand the sacrifices people made to get to this point.”
he statute will prohibit union security agreements, thereby taking away the requirement for employees in unionized workplaces to pay membership fees or be required to join in order to be employed. Opponents of the statute argue that without a cost of unionizing, unions will be weaker and less effective, thereby failing to do as much for its employees as unions in states not restricted by the right-to-work legislation.
“Whether proponents call this ‘right-to-work’ or ‘freedom-to-work’, it’s really just ‘freedom to freeload,’” Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, told AP. Opponents of the legislation claim such laws enable workers to enjoy benefits by unions without contributing.
Supporters of the measure claim that the restrictions prohibit freedom of association. But President Barack Obama is an avid opponent of right-to-work legislation, claiming that the best way to strengthen the effect of unions is through collective bargaining.
“These so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have anything to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics,” the president told a crowd of workers at an engine plant in Redford, Mich. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
Sue Brown, a 50-year-old pipefitter who joined the protesters, told AP that the unions “have created the middle class” and that this legislation would hurt that success. But regardless of the thousands of protesters who flooded Lansing during the early morning hours on Tuesday, the legislators had their minds made up before they began the debates. Asked about the speed of the decision-making, Snyder said making Michigan a right-to-work state had long been discussed before the legislation was on the table.
The bill will go into effect after Gov. Snyder signs the measure.