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Right-to-work OK draws protesters

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 7:24 p.m.

LANSING, Mich. — Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation through the Michigan Legislature on Thursday, drawing raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters — some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.

The House voted 58-52 to approve the measure that would prohibit most private unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees.

The Senate was expected to follow, but more votes are necessary because the two chambers' versions differ.

Opponents of right-to-work measures say they drain unions of money and weaken their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits.

Supporters, though, insist that a right-to-work law would boost the economy and jobs.

A victory in Michigan would give the movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor has suffered several body blows.

Even before the House vote, about 2,500 protesters streamed inside the Capitol building to prepare for the inevitable after Gov. Rick Snyder joined GOP legislative leaders on Thursday morning in announcing that they would push for swift passage of the right-to-work law.

“This is all about taking care of the hard-working workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices,” Snyder said during a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville, both Republicans.

“The goal isn't to divide Michigan. It is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order as Democratic senators denounced the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley.

At one point, a man shouted: “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are.” He was quickly escorted out.

Another later yelled: “We will remember in November!”

Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door.

The Capitol, which was temporarily closed because of safety concerns, reopened in the afternoon, sending hundreds of protesters streaming back inside with chants of “Whose house? Our house!”

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