Hundreds of union workers protested outside the Capitol in Lansing today. Inside, Republicans were pushing controversial anti-union legislation that would make Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state. The legislation would strip power from the state's labor movement, including the historic auto unions of Detroit.
Republicans in the House introduced the bill this morning, attaching it to other legislation in order to bypass rules that require a 5-day waiting period before action can be taken on new bills. The bill passed the House after Democrats walked out symbolically. It was still being debated in the Senate late into the afternoon.
Democrats are accusing the GOP of taking action during the lame duck session because they will not have the votes to pass the bill when newly elected lawmakers take office next year. Governor Rick Snyder praised the move earlier this week, announcing it was time for lawmakers "to step up and make some decisions." Snyder's pledge to sign the right-to-work legislation came as a surprising change of course to many, as he had previously discouraged his colleagues in the State House from taking up the legislation.
The Capitol was put on lock-down after protesters flooded the Capitol early in the day. Eight demonstrators were arrested for obstructing and resisting, and police used pepper spray on rowdy protesters.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero was on PoliticsNation Thursday blasting Republicans over their power grab, calling it a "sad day" in Michigan. "This is an absolute attack on unions," he said. "It's the right to work for less. We know that six out of the top ten states in unemployment are right-to-work states."
Bernero blamed Governor Snyder for inciting the lock-down, "If anybody doesn't believe this is an attack on democracy, this is only the 2nd time I've ever seen the capitol on lock-down, people locked out of their own state capitol. And both times by the Snyder administration."
Bernero also challenged the idea that this would help bring jobs to the state. "If what we're concerned about is jobs, and economic growth, then right-to-work is not the way to go," he said. "I am appalled that the governor and the Republican majority has brought this issue to the floor as though this is what we should be spending our time on in this tough economy, when people need jobs and economic growth. If anything, this is going to repel people from coming because nobody wants to be a part of this circus. "
The White House also weighed in on the controversy today, issuing a statement this afternoon:
President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now. The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan–and its workers' role in the revival of the US automobile industry–is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.
The Michigan State AFL-CIO said they will ask lawmakers to put the bill on a statewide ballot rather than "forcing this controversial proposal through during the lame duck session."