LANSING, Mich. - Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation through the Michigan Legislature 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 six-vote margins in both chambers, the House and Senate approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. Democrats denounced it as an attack on worker rights, but the GOP sponsor insisted it would boost the economy and jobs. Separate legislation dealing with public-sector unions was expected to come later.
Because of rules requiring a 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 previously had said repeatedly that right-to-work was "not on my agenda," told reporters Thursday he would sign the measures.
Union workers rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere.
A victory in Michigan would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor already 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 they were putting the issue on a fast track.
"This is all about taking care of the hard-working 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," Snyder said.
But Democrats said the legislation - and Republicans' 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. At one point, a man shouted, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are." He was quickly escorted out. Another later yelled, "We will remember in November."
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.
Protesters waved placards and chanted slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right-to-work has got to go." Adamczyk said the troopers used pepper spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop.