Michigan passes anti-union measure amid protests

Thousands of anti-union protesters march in freezing temperatures outside Michigan's Capitol in response to the "right to work" legislation being pushed through the House. MSNBC's Ron Mott reports from Lansing.

By M. Alex Johnson, NBC News

Updated at 12:18 p.m. ET: Michigan lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that would sharply limit labor rights, passing the first of two measures over the objections of thousands of people packing the Capitol in protest.

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By a 58-51 vote, the Republican-led House passed a bill that would ban workplace rules that make union membership a condition of employment for government workers. A second bill, covering private-sector workers, was expected to pass later in the day, and Gov. Rick Snyder was expected to sign the measures this week.

The legislation would make Michigan — one of the most union-friendly states in the country — the 24th "right to work" state, making payment of union dues voluntary even though even though the union negotiates on a worker's behalf.

As the vote was taking place, as many as 10,000 people descended on the Capitol, State Police estimated, prompting authorities to restrict access to the building because it was at its capacity of 2,000. The overflow filled the lawn and stretched down East Michigan Avenue to the Lansing Center across the river several blocks away.

About 200 onlookers filled the gallery overlooking the House floor Tuesday. As debate resumed on one of the bills, the session was interrupted with protesters yelling, "Shame on you," NBC News' Nadine Comerford reported.

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Law enforcement officials said they wouldn't let Michigan become another Wisconsin, where demonstrators occupied the state Capitol around the clock for nearly three weeks last year to protest similar legislation.

Armed with tear gas canisters, pepper spray and batons, State Police officers guarded the Capitol as protesters shouted "No justice, no peace!" and "Shut it down!" NBC station WILX of Lansing reported.

On the lawn, four large inflatable rats were set up to mock Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, Senate Republican leader Randy Richardville, and Dick DeVos, a prominent conservative businessman who union leaders say is behind the bills.

Obama decries right-to-work proposal during trip to Michigan

Schools in at least three districts were closed because so many teachers and other staff were at the rally.

"The long-term effect is this is union-busting at its best," Robyn Price, a union representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, told NBC station WDIV of Detroit.

The Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, state coordinator for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said he still held out hope that Snyder could be persuaded to veto the bills, saying, "This is an issue for the greater community."

But that's unlikely. Snyder has said he supports the legislation, calling it "pro-worker," and is expected to sign the bills as soon as they reach his desk.

Getty Images

Union members from around the country streamed to the State Capitol to protest a vote on 'right-to-work' legislation Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday, Dec. 11

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