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.
With 6-vote margins in both chambers, the House and Senate approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring nonunion employees to pay fees. Democrats denounced it as an attack on worker rights, but the GOP sponsor insisted it would boost the economy and jobs. Lgislation dealing with public-sector unions was expected later.
Because of a required five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment appears unlikely until next week. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who had said repeatedly that right-to-work was "not on my agenda," said Thursday that he would sign the measures.
A victory in Michigan would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where organized labor has suffered several body blows. Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin recently pushed through legislation curbing union rights, sparking massive protests.
Even before the Michigan bills surfaced, protesters streamed inside the Capitol preparing for what appeared inevitable after Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville announced at a news conference that they were putting the issue on a fast track.
"This is all about taking care of the hardworking workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices," Snyder said. "The goal isn't to divide Michigan; it is to bring Michigan together."
Democrats said the legislation and GOP tactics would poison the state's political atmosphere.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order during the Senate debate as Democrats attacked the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley.
Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. He said troopers used pepper spray after people refused to obey orders to stop.