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Chaotic day at the State Capitol results in Right to Work legislation clear its first hurdle


LANSING (WKZO) -- Over the noisy protests of hundreds of union members, and despite angry denunciations from Democrats, the Republican majority in Lansing has pushed controversial “right to Work” bills through the Michigan House and Senate. They now have to sit for five days, under legislative rules, before they can be taken up by the other house and become final. That means there will be another showdown on Tuesday.

Less than 12-hours before, house leaders had been claiming that they hadn’t made up their minds whether to proceed with the legislation, and then in a sudden rush, while they still have a larger majority than they will have in January, they amended other bills to avoid having to hold hearings, and brought the measures to a vote.

Democrats used whatever delaying tactics they could to slow down the process but Kalamazoo House Representative Sean McCann says they could not stop it.

Speaker Jase Bolger claimed they were doing it for the benefit of workers, that this will give them more freedom and autonomy in the workplace by giving them a choice whether or not they want to join the union and pay dues when they go to work for an employer.

Union opponents say they will be able to enjoy all the benefits of being in the union without contributing to the effort. They liken it to enjoying police and fire protection without paying taxes.

Economists are also split on whether the other claim made by supporters is also valid, that it attracts employers and improves the economy of a state. They say it may bring in new jobs, but it also tends to lower the wages and benefits of other workers and that hurts the economy.

WMU Political Science Professor John Clark says while republicans may believe there are economic benefits, there are those who also believe there are political advantages to weakening the unions which support causes and candidates they oppose. Dr. Clark says that is also one of the reasons he believes this was pushed through during Lame Duck.

The Chaotic day at the capitol included hundreds of demonstrators, State Police tear gassing protestors who tried to storm the Senate Chamber, resulting in 8 arrests.  Orders for the State Police to clear the Capitol Building and lock the doors, which were later reversed by a judge and called shameful by Democrats. To end the day, there were protestors in the Visitors Gallery of the State Senate shouting “shame on you” as the final tally was counted and announced.

Republicans tacked a million dollar spending provision on the bill, apparently making it ineligible for challenge by referendum.

Bolger and Snyder say the legislation should be something that brings the state together, not divide it. That doesn't appear to be the case. 

It was a historic and some say dark day in the state where the labor movement was born.