Police used pepper spray Thursday to subdue protesters trying to rush the Michigan state Senate after Gov. Rick Snyder and other Republican leaders announced they would press for quick approval of right-to-work legislation limiting union powers.
“When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd,” said Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk. “It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act.”
A few of the anti-right-to-work protesters engaged in dangerous and threatening behavior. From Michigan Capitol Confidential:
“A union supporter cuts up a sign from supporters of right-to-work laws,” the video’s description reads.
The Capitol was temporarily closed because of concerns for the safety of people and the building. Adamczyk estimated about 2,500 visitors were at the Capitol.
So-called right-to-work measures generally prohibit requiring unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees, which opponents say drains unions of money and weakens their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it would boost the economy and job creation. Should it become law in Michigan, it would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region.
Again, those opposed to the right-to-work legislation weren’t shy about letting its supporters know how they really felt:
“Union members protesting a right-to-work law turn from picketing the capitol to intimidating other citizens supporting a right-to-work law, getting physical and screaming at a man playing a Ronald Reagan speech,” the video’s description reads. “One union member resorts to personally cussing out the man playing the speech.”
After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course Thursday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.
“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 during a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville, both fellow Republicans.
“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan, it is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.
But the decision to push forward in the waning days of the Legislature’s lame-duck session infuriated outnumbered Democrats, who resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to slow action but were powerless to block the bills that were expected to be introduced Thursday.
Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said she was “livid.”
“These guys have lied to us all along the way,” she said. “They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with and the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they’re going to hightail it out of town. It’s cowardly.”
Hundreds of chanting, whistle-blowing union activists packed the state Capitol rotunda and hallways, chanting slogans such as “Union buster” and “Right-to-work has got to go.”
State officials said two platoons of 32 state police officers have been dispatched to guard the Capitol building, the Lansing State Journal reports.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy the AP.