Michigan's Republican-dominated legislature on Thursday passed conservative, anti-worker, anti-women measures--controversial right-to-work legislation and a conscience clause that allows health care providers to deny services--sparking outrage and protests from Democrats and union members and leading police to use "chemical munitions" on protesters.
Protesters packed the Capitol building, news agencies report, as right-wing Gov. Rick Snyder and Republicans announced the right-to-work legislation. Some of the protesters who were inside the building attempted to get to the chamber floor and were met with a chemical assault. The Detroit Free Press reports:
"When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd," [Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk] said. "It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act."
The House passed the first of three right-to-work bills in a 58-52 vote.
Right-to-work laws mean dues cannot be required from non-union employees. Touted as "workplace freedom" by supporters, unions see them as an assault on their bargaining power and an attempt at further weakening the power of organized labor.
The Lansing State Journal reports that the right-to-work legislation was passed "after House Democrats walked off the chamber floor to protest the Capitol not being opened to the public."
Americans for Prosperity, which the Detroit Free Press describes as "the conservative non-profit organization that funded Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to strip that state's public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights," and was founded by the notorious Koch brothers, supported the legislation.
Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, said in statement that the
Michigan passage of right-to-work legislation will be the shot heard around the world for workplace freedom. A victory over forced unionization in a union stronghold like Michigan would be an unprecedented win on par with Wisconsin that would pave the way for right to work in states across our nation.
John Armelagos, a union nurse, also sees the far-reaching impact the legislation would have. Michigan Radio reports:
Unfortunately, when Michigan goes Right to Work….the home of organized labor….where 75 years ago…brave families occupied the auto plants to form the UAW…and set the foundation for a better way of life…not only for Michigan families but all those in the Midwest….and set the tone for the whole country …in terms of collective bargaining and helping form the middle class…when Right to Work’s instituted,” Armelagos said with his eyes tearing up, “It’s going to hurt everybody.
Geraldine Blankinship, who took part in the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37 as part of the Women's Emergency Brigade, said of the legislation, "It's the worst thing that can happen to people who work for a living," and added, "It would be a disgrace," MLive.com reports.
Unlike the state's controversial emergency manager law which was repealed this November, the right-to-work legislation's permanence is guaranteed, the Lansing State Journal adds:
State Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills, who spoke against the bill to loud applause from the gallery, said it contains an appropriation of state funds designed to make it referendum-proof. Bills considered appropriation bills can not be repealed through a ballot measure, as happened with the toughened emergency manager law, Public Act 4, on Nov. 6.
If passed, Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the country. It may work its way to the Senate tomorrow.
The Huffington Post reports that the Michigan Senate passed its own right-to-work legislation Thursday as well:
Following the Michigan House's lead, the state Senate passed right-to-work measures on Thursday evening -- just hours after Gov. Rick Snyder and top GOP Republicans announced the bills. [...]
The House and Senate bills are two of three separate right-to-work bills currently up for vote that will eventually be consolidated into two bills, according to the Detroit Free Press. Both the bills passed by the House and Senate pertain to private-sector employees.
Another bill passed in Michigan on Thursday allows healthcare providers to refuse to provide services based on their personal beliefs. The Detroit Free Press explains:
Health care providers could use a “moral objection” or “matter of conscience” standard to refuse service to patients under a bill passed by the state Senate Thursday.
By a 26-12 vote, the Senate approved the bill Thursday, which would allow health care providers -- as a matter of conscience -- to decline services they object to. It also would allow employers to refuse to pay for services for their employees that “violated the payer's conscience."
In more legislation passed Thursday that has a direct impact on women, MLive.com reports:
Health plans participating in Michigan's "Obamacare" health exchange could not cover elective abortions unless the coverage is offered as a separate optional rider purchased by women, under legislation that won approval mostly along party lines Thursday in the state Senate.
“Get the government from underneath women’s clothes. This bill is disgusting. It has no business in political discourse,” the Detroit Free Press reports state Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, as saying. “We’ve already had this conversation. Obama won, Romney lost, get over it.”
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Video by Laura Misjak/Lansing State Journal of the State troopers rushing protesters:
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Video by Greg Deruiter/Detroit Free Press of protesters at the Michigan Capitol rallying against the right-to-work measure:
This post was updated at 8:45 PM EST to reflect the Senate right-to-work vote.