Police used pepper spray Thursday to subdue protesters trying to rush theMichigan state Senate after the governor and other Republican leaders announced they would press for quick approval of right-to-work legislation limiting union powers.
Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. The Capitol was temporarily closed because of safety concerns, and Adamczyk said Thursday afternoon he wasn't sure when it would reopen.
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 industry-heavy Rust Belt region, where organized labor already has suffered several body blows.
Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed through a law last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers, leading to huge protests at the state Capitol and an effort to recall the governor. Walker survived the recall referendum in June. A court battle over the law's constitutionality is ongoing.
After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, MichiganGov. Rick Snyder reversed course Thursday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.
Chanting, whistle-blowing activists flooded the building and grounds as Snyder and his allies sought quick votes on measures that would prohibit unions from collecting fees from workers who decline union representation.
"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.
The decision to push forward infuriated outnumbered Democratic state legislators, who resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to slow action but were powerless to block the bills that were expected to be introduced Thursday.
Protesters waved placards and chanted slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right-to-work has got to go." Adamczyk said the troopers used pepper spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop.
He estimated about 2,500 visitors were inside the Capitol.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Snyder said he had kept the issue at arm's length while pursuing other programs to bolster the state economy. But he said circumstances had pushed the matter to the forefront.
"It is a divisive issue," he acknowledged. "But it was already being divisive over the past few weeks, so let's get this resolved. Let's reach a conclusion that's in the best interests of all."
Also influencing his decision, he said, were reports that some 90 companies had decided to locate in Indiana since that state adopted right-to-work legislation. "That's thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan," he said.