Michigan union supporters flooded the state capitol yesterday, outraged over a fast moving and unexpected move by the legislature to pass sweeping anti-union legislation. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said he'd sign the the bills into law when it arrives on his desk next week. Once he does, Michigan, the symbolic center of American manufacturing and unions, will become the 24th so-called, right-to-work state. The laws bar unions from collecting mandatory dues directly from workers. New employees get the benefits of union contracts without paying dues and, unions say, as fewer workers join, collective bargaining agreements slacken and wages fall.
Just hours after they were introduced, both chambers approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. The Senate quickly followed by voting to impose the same requirement on most public unions.
Although rumors had circulated for weeks that right-to-work measures might surface during the session's waning days, the speed with which the GOP-dominated Legislature acted Thursday caught many onlookers by surprise. Details of the bills weren't made publicly available until they were read aloud on both floors as debate began.
The chaos drew raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.
Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment could not take place until Tuesday at the earliest. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously had said repeatedly that right-to-work was "not on my agenda," told reporters Thursday he would sign the measures.
The Michigan law is just the latest blow to unionized manufacturing work in the United States, which has been losing numbers in general for decades. Nearly 40 percent of private sector manufacturing workers were unionized in the early 1970s. Now, about ten percent of these workers belong to a union.
The news from Michigan comes on the heels of several major union losses in the midwest. Earlier this year, Indiana became a right-to-work state, and in 2011, Wisconsin passed laws restricting union rights for public workers.