The Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. -- As the chants of angry protesters filled the Capitol, Michigan lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to right-to-work legislation, dealing a devastating defeat to organized labor in a state that has been one of its strongholds for generations.
The Republican-dominated House ignored Democrats' pleas to delay the passage and instead approved two bills that passed the Senate last week. One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours.
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"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said during floor debate. After the vote, he said, Michigan's future "has never been brighter, because workers are free."
The state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan joins 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Supporters say the laws give workers more choice and support economic growth, but critics insist the real intent is to weaken organized labor by encouraging workers to "freeload" by withholding money unions need to bargain effectively.
Protesters in the gallery chanted "Shame on you!" as the measures were adopted.
Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting "No justice, no peace," and Democrats warned that hard feelings over the legislation and Republicans' refusal to hold committee hearings or allow a statewide referendum would be long-lasting.
Valerie Constance, a reading instructor for the Wayne County Community College District and member of the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."
Michigan has given the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions repeated setbacks.