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Mich. OKs right-to-work

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 9:32 p.m.
REUTERS
Labor union members and supporters hang a flag in the Capitol rotunda in Lansing, Mich., as they demonstrate in opposition to a proposed right-to-work measure on Tuesday, Dec. 11. REUTERS
REUTERS
A Boilermaker Local 169 member Dan Kidd stands outside the George W. Romney State Office Building across from the Capitol with labor union members and supporters as they demonstrate in opposition to a right-to-work measure in Lansing, Michigan December 11, 2012. Michigan legislators on Tuesday approved laws that ban mandatory membership in public and private sector unions, dealing a stunning blow to organized labor in the home of the U.S. auto industry. REUTERS/James Fassinger (UNITED STATES - Tags: CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT POLITICS)

LANSING, Mich. — As chants of angry protesters filled the Capitol, Michigan lawmakers gave final approval on Tuesday to right-to-work legislation, dealing a devastating and once-unthinkable defeat to organized labor in a state that has been a bastion of the movement for generations.

The Republican-dominated House ignored Democrats' pleas to delay the passage and instead approved two bills with the same ruthless efficiency that the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours, calling them “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”

“This is about freedom, fairness and equality,” House Speaker Jase Bolger said during the floor debate. “These are basic American rights — rights that should unite us.”

After the vote, he said, Michigan's future “has never been brighter, because workers are free.”

The state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan will join 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.

Supporters say the laws give workers more choice and support economic growth, but critics insist the real intent is to weaken organized labor by encouraging workers to “freeload” by withholding money unions need to bargain effectively.

Protesters in the gallery chanted “Shame on you!” as the measures were adopted. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting “No justice, no peace,” and Democrats warned that hard feelings over the legislation and Republicans' refusal to hold committee hearings or allow a statewide referendum would be long lasting.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and other Democrats in the state's congressional delegation met with Snyder on Monday and urged him to slow things down.

“For millions of Michigan workers, this is no ordinary debate,” Levin said after the House vote. “It's an assault on their right to have their elected bargaining agent negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions, and to have all who benefit from such negotiations share in some way in the cost of obtaining them.”

Although numbering in the thousands, the crowds were considerably smaller than those drawn by right-to-work legislation in Indiana earlier this year and in Wisconsin in 2011, during consideration of a law curtailing collective bargaining rights for most state employees. Those measures provoked weeks of intense debate, with Democrats boycotting sessions to delay action and tens of thousands of activists occupying statehouses.

In Michigan, Republicans acted so quickly that opponents had little time to plan heavy resistance. Snyder and GOP leaders announced their intentions on Thursday. Within hours, the bills were hurriedly pushed through the Senate as powerless Democrats objected. After a legally required five-day waiting period, the House approved final passage.

The governor said he saw no reason not to sign the bills immediately, especially with demonstrators hoping to dissuade him.

“They can finish up, and they can go home because they know ... making more comments on that is not going to change the outcome,” he said. “I view this as simply trying to get this issue behind us.”

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