News & Politics

Michigan House Approves Anti-Union Bill as Massive Protests Erupt

Demonstrators have converged on the Michigan Capitol.

Michigan unionists packed the rotunda of the state Capitol in Lansing yesterday but the House passed a right to work bill. Protests continue today.
Photo Credit: AFT Michigan

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a contentious anti-union legislation today as thousands of protesters massed at the Michigan Capitol to voice opposition to what will be a major blow to union rights and a victory for right-wing forces.

The bill passed 58-51, the first part of a two-step plan to prohibit both public and private workers from being required to pay for the costs of labor union representation. As AlterNet’s Joshua Holland explained, so-called “right to work” laws, which are being proposed in Michigan, “allows workers who choose not to join the union to take advantage of the union's representation without chipping in to cover the costs. And that effectively defunds the union.” Salon’s Josh Eidelson explains further: “Contrary to much rhetoric – and some reporting – U.S. law already prevents workers from being required to join a union or pay dues, per se. The issue is whether non-members, whom the union is still legally required to negotiate for and represent at work, can be required to pay representation fees.”

The legislation that already passed concerned public workers, minus police and firemen--a page out of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union playbook. When Walker embarked on his anti-union drive, he too excluded police and firefighters from inclusion in his plan to strip workers of collective bargaining rights. The bill set to be voted on this afternoon concerns private sector workers, andReuters reports that it “is expected to be debated and approved by the House later on Tuesday.”

Meanwhile, massive protests have erupted in Michigan over the law, which many say was rammed through quickly with no committee hearings. Governor Rick Snyder had previously said he would not sign a “right to work” bill, but he has apparently rescinded that promise.

“This is being forced down peoples’ throats,” one Michigan Democrat told the New York Times.

The Detroit Free Press reports that “as voting began inside the state Capitol, the crowd outside swelled to more than 10,000 people by police estimates.” Police donned riot gear as the crowd swelled. The Free Press further reports that protesters “tore down a tent being occupied by Americans for Prosperity, a pro right-to-work group.”

Another Michigan-based paper reports that “witnesses say Michigan State Police have deployed chemical agents on the east side of the Capitol after a crowd attempted to move toward the Capitol.”

The massive protests come a day after President Barack Obama visited the state to promote his budget deficit plan. But he also used the opportunity to criticize the Republican "right to work" legislation.

“What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” Obama said.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.