Politics & Government
7:50 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

Michigan likely to go "right-to-work;" protestors hit Capitol (PHOTOS, AUDIO, VIDEO)

We're updating this post on the legislature's effort to pass a 'right-to-work' law in Michigan.

A right-to-work law would outlaw requirements that workers pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Unions say these laws weaken their ability to bargain collectively with employers. Supporters of the law say it gives workers a choice.

Update 7:50 p.m.

The state Senate has passed a right-to-work bill with a vote of 22-16. Senate Bill 116 now goes to the state House. Earlier the House passed HB 4056 which is on its way to the Senate. Legislators will have to wait five days for further action.

So, to recap, on the same day right-to-work legislation saw the light of day in the Michigan Legislature, Republicans in both the Michigan House and the Michigan Senate passed the bills.

They used 'vehicle bills,' bills that were previously introduced without the right-to-work language, to push the legislation through.

6:43 p.m.

So the bottom line at this point is that the House has passed their right-to-work bill (one governing private sector employees) and the Senate is debating their bill now (one that governs public sector workers).

Once passed, the bills will move to the other chamber (the House bill to the Senate, the Senate bill to the House).

MPRN's Rick Pluta reports legislators would have to wait five days to cast their vote on these bills.

Protestors remain at the Capitol as debate continues.

5:37 p.m.

In her comments on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) says she'll leave the chamber in protest of the right-to-work bill being voted on.

MPRN's Rick Pluta reports that the right-to-work bill that passed the Michigan House cannot be voted on by the Michigan Senate for at least five days.

In the meantime, the Senate is preparing to vote on SB 116 which is a right-to-work bill focused on public sector employees. Protestors can be heard outside the chamber.

You can watch the proceedings here.

If you have a slower connection, you can listen to the proceedings here.

4:54 p.m.

The right-to-work bill (House Bill 4054) has passed the Michigan House by a vote of 58-52.

Under this bill, private sector employees would not be compelled to pay union dues or fees in a workplace represented by a union.

Now it's on to the Senate where members are discussing SB 116. That bill addresses public sector workers.

Both of these bills are 'vehicle bills' meaning they were introduced in the past, but the new right-to-work language has been added to them so they can move through the legislature quickly.

4:47 p.m.

The Capitol is apparently open. The right-to-work bill being voted on in the House Chamber is HB 4054. Bolger has tweeted he's waiting for Democrats to return for a vote:

4:31 p.m.

MIRS is reporting that a union official says they have obtained a court order to open the Capitol building again.

Gongwer News Service is tweeting that House Democrats are walking out of the chamber in protest that the Capitol is in lock-down while right-to-work is being debated.

MPRN's Rick Pluta reports the House Democrats are going to try to open the doors to the state Capitol to let people in.

3:50 p.m.

The Michigan Republican Party posted this video of the union protestors who were arrested at the state Capitol. The AP reports the protestors tried rush past two troopers guarding the Senate door earlier today. Troopers say chemical spray was used on the protestors after they refused orders to stop.

3:15 p.m.

The Michigan House has just taken up the measure to enact a right-to-work law. Democrats have used a procedural motion to slow down the process by making the House clerk read the bill out loud in its entirety.

2:32 p.m.

Gongwer News Service reports that protests have been outside the headquarters of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and also down Allegan Street in Lansing blocking traffic.

Michigan State Police have closed the Capitol building in Lansing to the public, expressing concern that the building may soon be over-capacity.

People protesting "right to work" legislation have left or been removed.

There are reports of at least four arrests and a "chemical agent" (pepper spray or possibly mace) being used inside the building.

Democrats in the Legislature say they have filed a lawsuit to force authorities to re-open the state Capitol to visitors.

A State Police inspector says there are concerns about the strain on the parts of the building where protesters are gathered.

The Detroit Free Press has this video of the protests inside the Capitol:

2:07 p.m.

MIRS posted this photo of protestors being escorted out of the Michigan Capitol after rushing the Senate floor:

Protestors being led from the Capitol after rushing the Senate floor.
Credit MIRS

More from the Associated Press:

Michigan State Police say they have used chemical spray on right-to-work protesters who to tried rush into the Senate chamber at the State Capitol.

Inspector Gene Adamczyk says people tried to rush past two troopers guarding the Senate door Thursday. He says the troopers used chemical spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop.

He says there were several arrests but didn't give a number.

Adamczyk says the Capitol has been temporarily closed because of concerns for the safety of people and the building. He estimated about 2,500 visitors were at the Capitol.

Adamczyk said the building wasn't at capacity but protesters were heavily concentrated in a few areas.

1:31 p.m.

We're not sure if you got the memo, but what was once dubbed 'right-to-work' is now called 'freedom-to-work' by those supporting the legislation.

Whatever you call it, Republican leaders in Michigan will introduce legislation today that could ultimately strip power from labor unions in a state that was the birthplace of the labor movement.

The leaders in the Legislature say they have the votes, and now they have Gov. Snyder's blessing as well.

Gov. Rick Snyder in the past has said the issue was "too divisive" and that it was "not on his agenda" this year.

Whether he likes it or not, it's on his agenda now.

During this morning's press conference, Snyder said as much.

"It is a divisive issue. It's on the table whether I want it to be there or not," Snyder said.

Now his hand is being forced to be out front championing the effort. In a press release, Snyder said:

"We respect the fact that the freedom-to-work issue evokes strong emotions among supporters and opponents. That's why we've focused on other reforms that are so critical to Michigan's turnaround. But with this issue now on the table, it's time to embrace the benefits that come with giving working men and women the freedom they deserve. The values of freedom, fairness and equality in the workplace should unite us all. And as states fiercely compete for jobs, this legislation will ensure that investors know Michigan is the place to do business."

Those supporting the legislation say it's not about removing power from unions; it's about giving workers a choice.

The legislation will make dues or fees paid to a union optional for workers, regardless of whether they're benefiting from collective bargaining agreements or not.

Those opposed say it's a move to break apart unions, and that such a law will create an unfair work environment.

They say workers with the same job could get the same collectively bargained for benefits (such as pay, healthcare, pensions, and workplace safety improvements) even when only one of them is paying union dues.

They're taking to the Capitol in Lansing to voice their opposition to the bill.

Sound of protesters in the Lansing Capitol.

The Detroit Free Press reports that "at about 12:30 p.m., State Police said no one was being allowed into the Capitol -- including employees -- because it was at capacity."

Outside the news conference, the protests raged.

They carried signs that read: "Right to work: nobody wants it. Nobody needs it." and "Workers' rights, not right to work," and chanted "Union busting has to stop."

...The Capitol was jammed with both union protesters and police trying to ensure a peaceful, if somewhat noisy, protest of the right-to-work law.

Geoff Kish, a union pipefitter from Davison, said he worked alongside nonunion tradespeople in the right-to-work state of Louisiana and believes if the change is approved, it will drive down wages, benefits and the standard of living in Michigan.

With protests raging, and the UAW calling on its membership for more, the bills are expected to move through the Michigan Legislature quickly.

"Vehicle bills" are expected to be used to move the legislation along rapidly.

Those are bills that have already been introduced in the Legislature that have nothing to do with 'right-to-work.' But the language for the 'right-to-work' bills can be placed into these 'vehicle bills.' That allows for an up or down vote to take place in less time.

Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger said the bills are  about supporting Michigan workers:

"The men and women who work hard every day to support their families. Unions will still have the freedom to make their case, but now workers will have the freedom to make their choice," said Bolger.

 

Police and firefighters will not have the 'freedom to choose' under this legislation. From Gov. Snyder's press release:

The legislation preserves the status afforded to police and firefighters under Public Act 312.