LANSING (WWJ) - Michigan is the nation's 24th right-to-work state.
Thousands of protesters infuriated by efforts to dilute the power of organized labor swarmed the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday as Republicans voted to make financial support of unions voluntary.
The GOP-dominated state House of Representatives voted 58-51, passing a right-to-work law covering public employees and 58-52 on a bill for private sector workers.
Both bill were signed by Gov. Rick Snyder before 6 p.m.
"This is a major day in Michigan's history," Snyder told reporters at a news conference. "Again, I don't view this as anti-union at all. I believe this is pro-worker. This is an opportunity for unions to step up and say how they can provide the best value to workers in our state, and really be more responsive to listen to them and hopefully be successful in getting workers on board."
Snyder noted that "there were a number of people out protesting," and, as such, he didn't see a need for a public bill signing ceremony to overemphasize that.
"Because this isn't about us versus them -- this is about us being Michiganders and trying to work together," said Snyder. "Because, again, my first focus is always how can we find common ground and solve the problems. This is an area where obviously people disagree, but I'm confident that this is in the best interest of Michiganders."
Republican Senator Arlan Meekhof of West Olive, near the Holland area, was one of the sponsors of the right-to-work legislation.
"The unionized workers can expect no different. Their contracts are still enforced; collective bargaining is still enforced," said Meekhof. "So I would say unions can now make their case for membership just like the workers can make their case for choice."
On the other side of the aisle, state Democrats say it's not over.
"They're telling me it could go to the courts; it could go to a petition drive; it could also go into the next election in two years," Skubick said.
An estimated 12,000 union members and supporters gathered to protest the legislation. A block-and-a-half mass that included autoworkers, sheet metal workers, machinists, and electrical workers marched to City hall, across from the Capitol. The coalition of 33 unions was later expected to gather outside the Capitol, across the street.
In general, right-to-work laws prohibit requiring unions from collecting fees from non-union employees, which opponents say drains unions of money and weakens their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it will boost the economy and job creation. Police and firefighters are exempt in the legislation. (Right to Work: Just the Facts).
The governor says it was a challenging day, and acknowledges that there will be continued opposition from state Democrats and labor leaders.
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