LANSING –– Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature's top two leaders said Thursday they would seek approval of right-to-work legislation for Michigan in the next few days, potentially giving the movement its strongest foothold yet in a Rust Belt region where organized labor already has suffered several body blows.
Snyder previously said the effort, which prohibits unions from requiring nonunion workers to pay dues to support their activities, was "not on my agenda." However, he reversed course during a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.
They said bills would be introduced Thursday and they would push for quick passage.
As a throng of angry union activists massed on the sidewalk outside Snyder's office building and in the Capitol across the street, Snyder said the key issue was freedom for workers to choose whether or not to belong to unions. He insisted the legislation was not intended to weaken organized labor or collective bargaining, although opponents fiercely disagree.
The legislation will cover both private and public sector workers, although an exception will be granted for police and firefighters, for whom a binding arbitration process exists under current law.
"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.
Snyder said he kept the issue at arm's length previously because he wanted to focus on other issues to rebuild Michigan's economy.
"It is a divisive issue," he acknowledged.
But he said the matter had come to the forefront of public attention in recent days and that he was influenced by Indiana, which he said had gained jobs and economic growth since approving right-to-work legislation.
Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer denounced the Republicans' plan as "cowardly" and said her colleagues would do all they could to block the legislation although they are badly outnumbered in both chambers.
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" as security officers and state police stood watch.