LANSING - People came from as close as down the street and as far as Chicago and Wisconsin, joining thousands of union members in a protest against right-to-work legislation Tuesday in Lansing.
Despite the roar of the crowds lining the lawn of the Capitol building and surrounding streets, two pieces of legislation passed by the Senate last week made their way through the state House of Representatives and were signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder Tuesday afternoon.
10,000 on the Capitol lawn
Michigan State Police estimated that protesters at the Capitol numbered around 10,000 on Tuesday. Most were union members and supporters, while a small contingent of Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity members—both of which support right-to-work legislation—were present as well.
Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, the Michigan Education Foundation, UAW and a number of smaller unions—including pipeworkers, boilermakers and plumbers—were present.
"They say they want to bring Michigan together," said Nick Kottalis, a Dearborn resident and President of the Dearborn Truck Plant chapter of UAW Local 600. "This is just asking to divide the state of Michigan."
While UAW members arrived on large busses, many teachers came on their days off—or took a personal day—to join the protests, driving their own cars full of fellow educators donning red. Several said they feared for their jobs if their district knew they were at the protest.
"We're afraid to talk because we don't want to lose our jobs," said a teacher from Farmington.
Arrests, pepper spray, mounted police
The scene got out of hand a number of times as protesters clashed with right-to-work supporters, police, and legislators inside the Capitol.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Michigan State Police confirmed that three people were arrested and one was pepper sprayed—although several people claimed to have been sprayed. One of those people was former Congressman Mark Schauer.
“I immediately began to retreat and began to cover my eyes and my mouth,” Schauer told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “It was not good."
The biggest clash came around 11:30 a.m., when union members pushed down tents set up by Americans for Prosperity—while AFP members were inside. Mounted police were brought in to control the situation, as well as state police wielding batons.
After news of the house votes reached protesters, the rally moved to the Romney Building, where Gov. Snyder's office is. State officers formed a barrier around the building as protesters shouted to him, "Don't sign the bill!"
In a press conference Tuesday evening, Snyder announced that he signed the bills.
"I have signed these bills into law. ... We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," he said.
51st District State Rep. Joseph Graves
State Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Argentine Township, released the following statement after voting to make Michigan the 24th Freedom to Work state:
"Today is a historic day for Michigan as fairness and equality have been restored in Michigan workplaces. I voted for Freedom to Work legislation today to ensure that Michigan workers have the freedom to choose whether to join a union or not. Collective bargaining is still enshrined in the law and Michigan workers absolutely will still have the right to join a union if they desire to do so, but the days of forced unionization are now over.
"Throughout this debate, I have been extremely disappointed by the name-calling and accusations that have gone on. Opponents of this legislation have been calling workers not wishing to be in unions "freeloaders." Every worker deserves to be able to choose whether they want to join a union or not and today we gave them that right. To call a worker who doesn't want to be in a union a freeloader is an insult. I strongly support unions' right not to represent anyone who chooses not to join the union, and simply changing their policies will make this a reality and eliminate this concern.
"With Freedom to Work, Michigan workers will now be able to seek a career without being forced to join a union or have dues deducted from their paychecks. Unions will still have rights, but now workers will have rights too. Fairness is allowing workers to decide what's best for themselves and their families and I’m proud that today we gave workers that right by passing Freedom to Work."