Mich. legislators defy unions, OK right-to-work


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LANSING, Mich. -- In an audacious flex of political muscle, Republicans in a single day reached the brink of a goal that for years has seemed an all-but-impossible dream: making the labor bastion of Michigan a right-to-work state.

The GOP majority used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to ramrod legislation through the House and Senate on Thursday, brushing aside denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. At one point, police used pepper spray to subdue demonstrators who tried to rush the Senate chamber.

"Shame! Shame on you!" protesters chorused from the gallery as the Senate voted. Earlier, security guards removed a man who yelled, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are." Another shouted, "We will remember in November."

The right-to-work laws would prohibit what are known as "closed shops," in which workers are required to join a union or pay fees that are equivalent to union dues as a condition of employment.

Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules require a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday, and Mr. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law.

A victory in Michigan, a cradle of organized labor, would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions one body blow after another.

But compared with Indiana and Wisconsin, where votes to curb union rights followed weeks or months of pitched battles, Michigan acted in the blink of an eye. GOP legislative leaders were saying as late as Wednesday that it was uncertain whether the issue would come up in a lame-duck session moving toward adjournment. Mr. Snyder had said repeatedly since his election two years ago that the topic was divisive and not on his agenda.

Thursday morning, however, the governor called a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville to announce that not only would right-to-work legislation be considered, it would be placed on a fast track. By sundown, bills had been introduced and passed without committee votes or public hearings.

Democrats contended Republicans, who lost five House seats in the November election, wanted to act before a new legislature takes office next month. In passionate floor speeches, they accused the majority of ignoring the message from voters and bowing to right-wing interest groups.

"These guys have lied to us all along the way," Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said. "They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session, and then they're going to hightail it out of town. It's cowardly."

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