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Michigan House passes right-to-work legislation

Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., tells NBC's Andrea Mitchell that the Right to Work legislation will bring more work to his state and may be a "positive" to unions over time.

 

Michigan will become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state after Republicans in the state legislature approved historic changes to the state’s labor laws over the strenuous objections of Democrats and union members.

The state House, which is controlled by Republicans, voted to bar workplaces from making union membership a condition of employment. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has said he would sign the law – a symbolically important strike at the organized labor movement in Michigan, a traditional union stronghold.

Paul Sancya / AP

Protesters gather for a rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week.

The House voted 58-41, largely upon party lines, to approve a Senate version of the right-to-work law. The bill will head to Synder for signature.

Related: Michigan passes anti-union measure amid protests

As state lawmakers debated and voted upon the new law, thousands of union members rallied outside the state capitol in Lansing in an ultimately futile show of opposition to the proposal.

Michigan joins Ohio and Wisconsin – two other industrial Midwestern strongholds governed by Republicans in the statehouse – in advancing laws intended to weaken labor rights over the past two years. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, led an effort in 2011 to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, which prompted massive protests and a legislative standoff. It also prompted an effort to recall Walker, which the governor survived this past June. Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, led the effort to pass similar legislation in his state, though it was undone by a subsequent ballot initiative.

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Republican lawmakers had sought to ward off a similar ballot initiative by attaching the bill to an appropriations measure, a procedural tactic making the right-to-work law ineligible from a direct challenge at the polls.

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But union members believe they might have a chance to put the right-to-work law before voters as soon as 2014, though the changes to the law would be allowed to take effect in the meanwhile. And opponents of the right-to-work law would have to also meet a higher-than-usual threshold of support to put the question on the ballot.

Democrats vocally criticized the law in the debate preceding the vote, one lawmaker, Douglass Geiss, said there would be “blood” as a result of the law. State Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D, said the law guaranteed Snyder’s defeat in 2014, when he would be up for re-election.

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Tuesday’s action makes Michigan the 24th right-to-work state, but only the second state in the Industrial Midwest to pass such a law. Michigan follows Indiana, which passed its right-to-work law in early 2012. Most other right-to-work states are located in the South and Plains states. Proponents of the laws argue that right-to-work laws have allowed those states to attract new jobs and industries, while labor advocates argue that workers in those states are forced to accept lower wages than they might enjoy in states where union membership in workplaces is compulsory.