Protesters to march on Michigan capitol over 'right-to-work' vote

Tue Dec 11, 2012 12:38am EST

* Michigan would become 24th "right-to-work" state

* Republican-controlled legislature expected to pass measures

* Up to 10,000 expected to protest

By Bernie Woodall

LANSING, Mich., Dec 11 (Reuters) - As many as 10,000 labor union workers from throughout Michigan and the U.S. Midwest are expected to march on the Michigan Capitol building in freezing temperatures on Tuesday to protest likely passage of a "right-to-work" law.

The Republican-controlled Michigan House of Representatives will consider two and perhaps three bills on Tuesday that would prohibit unions from compelling private sector workers and government employees to pay union dues.

The right-to-work movement has been growing in the country since Wisconsin fought a similar battle with unions over two years ago.

Michigan would become the 24th state to enact right-to-work provisions and passage of the legislation would deal a stunning blow to the power of organized labor in the United States.

Michigan is home of the heavily unionized U.S. auto industry, with some 700 manufacturing plants in the state. It is also the birthplace of the United Auto Workers, the richest U.S. labor union.

While the new laws are not expected to have much immediate impact because existing union contracts would be preserved, they could, over time, further weaken the UAW, which has already seen its influence wane in negotiating with the major automakers.

Right-to-work laws typically allow workers to hold a job without being forced to join a union or pay union dues.

Last Thursday, when the senate passed two bills and the House also considered right-to-work legislation, protesters converged on Lansing. Several people were arrested and officials sealed the Capitol from the public.

"We support people exercising their constitutional rights to protest," said Inspector Gene Adamczyk of the Michigan State Police. "But we need them to do it in an orderly manner."

President Barack Obama waded into the debate during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan on Monday, criticizing the Republican right-to-work effort.

"What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money," Obama said.

School teachers are among those expected to march on the Capitol on Tuesday. Several school districts will not hold classes on Tuesday due to teacher and staff absences, Detroit newspapers and television stations reported.

Labor leaders such as UAW President Bob King say they were blindsided by Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who last Thursday announced he was supporting right-to-work after nearly two years of saying the issue was too divisive.

King was unsuccessful in more than a week of talks with Snyder and his staff in staving off the right-to-work push by the Republicans, who will lose several seats when newly elected members take their seats in the state house and senate in January.

Michigan has the fifth highest percentage of unionized workers in the United States at 17.5 percent and the Detroit area is headquarters for General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler, which is majority owned by Fiat SpA .

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