LANSING—Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has signed controversial right-to-work legislation into law, significantly curbing the activities of the state’s public and private sector unions.
Two bills were pushed through state House votes on Tuesday. House Bill 4003 — which applies to public sector unions — was passed at about noon in a 58-51 vote, and Senate Bill 116 — which applies similar regulations to private sector unions — passed 58-52 shortly after. Both bills consolidate legislation that passed through the House and Senate last week.
House Republicans invoked a motion to reconsider the private-sector bill in order to prevent Democrats from doing the same, but rescinded that motion later in the day.
In a press conference after he signed both bills into action, Snyder said that he believes the new laws will bring more jobs to Michigan and is more pro-worker.
“I recognize that people are going to be upset. There’ll be a continuation,” Snyder said. “But hopefully what’s really going to transpire over time is you’re going to see workers making a choice, and you’ll see unions being held more accountable and responsive.”
Right-to-work legislation would prohibit the requirement of union membership in any job and outlaw mandatory fees associated with membership for most public and private-sector employees, excluding police and firefighters. Currently, 23 states have similar policies. During the November election, Michigan voters turned down a ballot proposal that would have enshrined collective bargaining into the state constitution.
Proponents testified that the legislation would increase workers’ options and freedom of speech. Opponents believe the legislation is an attack on Michigan’s unions, which have played an important role in decades of national organized labor debates.
East Lansing Police Officer Todd Quick said the ELPD was prepared for unruly behavior, such as protesters rushing the doors of the Capitol building, but he found it unlikely that dangerous situations would arise.
“Once it’s voted yay or nay, it’s basically done,” Quick said. “Nobody’s been unruly, out of hand, nobody has bothered us … everybody’s been friendly.”
However, protesters did knock down and vandalize a tent owned by Americans for Prosperity — a conservative group that came to support the legislation — situated on a reserved space of the Capitol building’s front lawn. Police were concerned about the incident because two people and a propane tank were caught under the canvas.
Law enforcement officials on horseback kept the crowd at bay while they retrieved the tank and trapped people. Once the risk was removed, police vacated the area and protesters went back to chanting.
“Down with the Snyder regime. One dumb turd,” read a union member’s sign.
Alex Neitzke, a second-year graduate student and Teaching Assistant at Michigan State University, said he thinks the passage of right-to-work will disintegrate unions, and he can’t imagine unions not being around.
Although from Chicago, Neitzke said he doesn’t think the decisions made by Snyder in the past two years have Michigan’s best interests in mind.
“He’s always centrist in rhetoric, but very conservative in actions, and so I think Snyder should be judged by his actions, and thus negatively,” Neitzke said.
Lame duck legislators — those who are nearing the end of their term and generally have successors named — were a prevelent topic of discussion at the rally.
Barb Fuller, a volunteer with Planned Parenthood, said term limits increase the turnover rate of legislators, decreasing their personal responsibility.
“So between term limits and lame duck, there are people who can cast any vote they want to without any accountability or repercussions,” Fuller said. “So what you’re seeing is some pretty radical legislation.”
Jeanne Hummel, an employee at the Monroe Department of Human Services and Chief Steward for UAW 6000, said she was at the protest to support middle class families who need the unions in order to make a living.
“The thing that’s really sad is that the governor flip-flopped,” Hummel said. The governer initially stated right-to-work was not high on his agenda before eventually pledging support.
Earlier in the day, Marica Close, who also works at the Monroe Department of Human Services, said there is only one thing that she hopes to happen if right-to-work legislation passes: “Recall Governor Snyder.”
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization and the University of Michigan Professional Nurse Council were in the capitol to protest the legislation, along with thousands of members of other unions. They could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
On Monday at the Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich., President Barack Obama criticized the legislation.
“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” the president said. “These so called right-to-work laws have nothing to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics.”