LANSING - 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.
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.
State Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, voted for the bills.
"These bills give Michigan workers the freedom to choose how to spend their hard-earned wages," McMillin said in a statement. "Unions can still make their case for membership, but workers will have the independence to work any job without forced payment of dues.
"Unions will remain an important part of our state's business environment regardless of this legislation. I hope both sides of this debate recognize that and we can begin a healing process to span the chasm that has divided us."
Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Orion, also voted in favor of the bills.
10,000 on the Capitol lawn
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 busses, 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!"
In a press conference Tuesday evening, Snyder announced that he signed the bills.
"I have signed these bills into law. ... We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," he said.