* Opponents say draft law aimed at undermining unions
* Percentage of union workers is fifth highest in nation
By Andrea King Collier
LANSING, Mich., Dec 6 Michigan Republicans on
Thursday began a drive to make the home of the U.S. auto
industry the 24th "right to work" state banning mandatory union
dues, setting off a confrontation with organized labor that
immediately led to the arrest of protesters.
Hundreds of union workers converged on the state capital of
Lansing. Majority Republicans in the state legislature
introduced a draft law in the House on Thursday afternoon with a
target for passage by the end of the year.
Several people were arrested while demonstrating inside the
Capitol building when they tried to rush past troopers outside
the Senate chambers, State Police spokesman Gene Adamczyk said.
The protests recalled the bitter fight over the last two
years in Wisconsin, where Republicans voted to curb the powers
of public sector unions.
The 2011 Wisconsin law sparked massive protests and
unsuccessful efforts to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker.
Hundreds of people were crowded into the Michigan Capitol
building and entry was cut off for safety reasons except for
those conducting business, Adamczyk said. At least 2,000 people
gathered on the grounds outside, he said.
"We had such a concentration of protesters in one area," he
said. "We don't want the mob to shift and someone to go over the
Outside, Kathleen Tronjo of Port Huron, an administrator
with the Michigan Education Association union, said the schools
and children would suffer under right-to-work laws.
"This is just bad policy," Tronjo said. "They just keep
taking more and more away from teachers."
Eric Prater, a pipefitters union member from Lansing, said
he expected voters to take up the issue after the legislature.
"The Republicans probably have enough votes to push it
through, but it's not going to stick," Prater said.
Republicans hold a 64 to 46 majority in the state House,
which is slated to narrow by five seats in January, when a new
legislature is seated with a 59 to 51 Republican majority.
Republicans hold a 26 to 12 majority in the state Senate.
Democrats said they were planning to file a lawsuit to get
the building reopened and were seeking to delay further
During the Wisconsin confrontation, some Democrats fled the
state in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Republicans from
having a quorum to vote on union measures they opposed.
Michigan is home to the United Auto Workers and would become
the second state in the industrial U.S. heartland to adopt such
a law after Indiana earlier in 2012.
ENOUGH VOTES TO PASS
Republican Governor Rick Snyder said the legislation would
cover the public and private sectors, with exemptions for police
and firefighters, and he hoped it would be passed before
lawmakers adjourn for the holidays.
"Quite often people call it right-to-work, but I think it is
a much better description to say that this is about fairness in
the workplace and equality in the workplace," Snyder said.
Snyder said he was asking for an act to be passed promptly
and he would sign it when it arrived on his desk.
Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger and Republican Senate
Majority Leader Randy Richardville said they believe there are
enough votes to pass the legislation and aimed to get it done by
the end of 2012. It would not take effect until possibly three
months into 2013, Richardville said.
"This debate has been ongoing in Michigan for decades and
specifically in this legislature for two years now," Bolger
There will be separate bills covering private unions and
Snyder's decision to pursue the legislation marks a reversal
for the governor, who had said that a right-to-work law would be
too divisive. On Thursday, he said Indiana's actions earlier
this year helped influence his decision.
"I think this is what is best for Michigan," Snyder said.
Snyder acknowledged Thursday the demonstrations at the
Capitol and the strong feelings people had about the issue.
"We have come to the point over the last few weeks and the
last month or two where that issue was on the table whether I
wanted it to be there or not," Snyder said.
Michigan voters in November rejected a measure that would
have enshrined a right to collective bargaining in the state
constitution, leading to renewed calls from state lawmakers to
take up the right-to-work issue before the end of the year.
"Right-to-work" laws typically allow workers to opt out of
paying union dues and bar requirements that an employee must
join a union to work in a certain shop.
Supporters say the laws help attract or keep businesses,
while opponents say they suppress workers' wages and benefits
and are aimed at undermining the financial stability of unions.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce on Monday gave its support
for a "right-to-work" law while the Metropolitan Affairs
Coalition, which includes both business and labor interests,
last week urged Michigan not to pursue such a law.
Michigan had the fifth highest percentage of workers in the
country who are union members in 2011, according to the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics.