By Kristen M. Daum
Within three hours today, House Republicans approved two bills that give right-to-work for both public and private employees, despite objections from Democratic lawmakers and thousands of protesters at the Capitol.
However, there's some confusion as to whether one of the bills will be reconsidered in the House on Wednesday, which could affect how swiftly that bill goes to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.
At around 1:30 p.m., the House approved Senate Bill 116 (giving right-to-work for private workers) by a 58-52 vote –about 90 minutes after the chamber approved a separate right-to-work bill for public-sector employees.
Lawmakers approved House Bill 4003 by a 58-51 vote at around noon. Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, was absent for the first vote, but not the second.
Because the Senate already gave approval to both bills on Thursday, the legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.
Once Snyder signs the legislation, the new laws will take effect April 1, 2013. Snyder's spokespeople have not returned messages seeking comment on how soon he might sign the legislation and whether he'll do so in a public or private ceremony.
"This is the day when Michigan freed its workers," Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said.
Right-to-work laws make it illegal to require employees to pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 17 percent of Michigan’s workforce is associated with a union.
Some Republicans joined the unanimous Democratic bloc in opposing both bills, which were expected to pass because of the Republican majority in the chamber. Republicans have a 64-46 advantage over Democrats.
Immediately after the vote on HB 4003, visitors in the gallery above the House floor clamored for a few minutes in protest, while a House clerk carried the results off the floor to transmit to Snyder's office.
Democratic floor leader Kate Segal, D-Battle Creek, attempted to have the vote brought back to the floor and reconsidered, which would’ve caused a procedural delay, but her request was rejected by Republican leadership and a subsequent floor vote that was defeated along party lines, 45-64.
There was no commotion after SB 116 passed. However, House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland, moved to have the vote on SB 116 reconsidered, which means it could be taken up again on Wednesday.
House Democrats feel that the motion will be withdrawn later today and is only a political move to halt Democratic objections. "It's more parliamentary tricks," House Democratic spokeswoman Katie Carey said.
Stamas had no comment on the Democrats' claims and would not say whether he intends to withdraw his motion.
"We intend to get these bills to the governor as soon as possible, whether that's today or tomorrow," Stamas said.
Regardless, due to legislative procedure, SB 116 has to go back to the Senate in order to be referred to the governor. No further votes are necessary in that chamber, though.
Stamas ordered a call of the House at 10:15 a.m., which required members to remain on the chamber floor until the order was lifted. After some procedural business
, lawmakers began debating right-to-work at about 10:30 a.m.Democrats sought to remove a $1 million appropriation that’s included in each of the right-to-work bills. Under the state Constitution, bills with appropriations are immune from repeal through ballot referendum.
Democrats said the appropriation is unnecessary and is meant only to minimize dissent, but Republicans say the funding is needed to educate and inform the public about the forthcoming changes in Michigan’s labor law.
Amendments to remove the appropriation failed, as did several others proposed by Democrats.
During the debate over each bill, nearly two dozen Democrats gave floor speeches in opposition to right-to-work, while about 10 Republicans stood in support of the legislation.
“We’re going to pass something that will undo 100 years of labor relations. There will be blood. There will be repercussions,” said Rep. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor.
Outgoing Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, urged Snyder to veto the legislation. However, Snyder said last week that he’ll sign it.
“There is still time to do the right thing,” Bauer said. “I can’t believe the majority of members in this chamber voted for right-to-work and have the audacity to say it will help workers.”
Republicans, who urged passage of the legislation, praised the benefits of right-to-work laws, which they say include job growth, more freedom for workers and more accountability for unions.
“The basic rights of workers must be protected,” said Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, “Freedom-to-work should not be a divisive issue. It’s about empowering workers. …This is a fundamental change about values that should unite us, not divide us.”
Rep. Rick Olson, R-Saline, said right-to-work laws honor the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right of free association.
“It is the principle that people should not be forced to join a union or any organization if they do not wish to,” Olson said. “I see this as tough love for unions. …The unions will not be busted - and that’s not the intent of the bill - but they will need to make their case to the workers that they’re worth joining.”
Outside the House chamber, about 2,500 demonstrators crowded into the Capitol and about 10,000 people filled the Capitol lawn outside to protest the House votes.
At least 200 onlookers, most donning pro-union garb, observed lawmakers from the House gallery, which was full by 9 a.m. - an hour before the House convened its session today. The audience in the gallery remained quiet during the debate with only a few, relatively minor outbursts.
Just outside the chamber doors, Michigan State Police troopers stood at least 10 deep guarding the Michigan House, including at least two troopers who were carrying about six canisters each filled with a mixture of tear gas and pepper spray.
Chants, cheers, pounding and other noise from the protests could be heard from within the House chamber as lawmakers took up the controversial legislation.
After days of speculation and back-door conversations between Snyder, Republican leaders and union stakeholders, Republicans first introduced three right-to-work bills Thursday afternoon. Both chambers gave them initial passage hours later that day without committee hearings and little debate on the House and Senate floors.
The House took up today the two bills the Senate passed on Thursday, House Bill 4003 (for public-sector employees) and Senate Bill 116 (for private sector-employees).
The third bill, House Bill 4054, which the House had passed, needs no further action because it's identical to SB 116.