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.
"I have signed these bills into law. ... We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," he said in press conference announcing that he signed the bills Tuesday evening.
With the signature, Michigan became the 24th state in the nation to adopt right-to-work provisions that supporters say will give workers choice and make Michigan more attractive to companies looking to investing in the Midwest.
But critics said they fear the move signaled the end of an era where strong unions helped build a strong middle class, and opened the doors to bitter partisan battles to come.
“With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Snyder erased not only a decades-old bipartisan consensus in support of workers' rights, but his credibility as well," said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, (D-Bloomfield Twp.) in a prepared statement. "We learned that we can no longer take Governor Snyder at his word and he certainly is unwilling to stand up for Michigan's middle class families."
10,000 on the Capitol lawn
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.
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 buses, 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!" h