LANSING, Mich. — As furious union members vowed to carry their fight into the next election cycle, lawmakers pushed through historic right-to-work legislation Tuesday — making this bastion of industrial labor strength the 24th state and the second in the Rust Belt to adopt right-to-work laws for public- and private-sector unions.
In a private ceremony, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed the bills covering private- and public-sector workers just hours after the state Legislature acted. The right-to-work measure forbids unions from requiring workers at organized worksites to join or pay dues. Both sides say the change undercuts a key source of labor power and bargaining leverage.
“This is a major day in Michigan’s history,” Mr. Snyder said. “I don’t view this as anti-union at all. I view this as pro-worker.”
House Bill 4003 passed by a 58-51 margin, while Senate Bill 116, which applies to private-sector unions, was approved 58-52, making Michigan the second Midwestern state to embrace the right-to-work option.
Indiana approved a similar law in February. The Michigan law exempts unions for police and firefighters.
“This is about freedom, fairness and equality,” House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, said Tuesday morning as Democrats in the chamber sought to quash or stall a vote with a slate of amendments. “These are basic American rights — rights that should unite us.”
For a state business community still struggling to gain altitude after a brutal recession, right-to-work will be a “game-changer,” Mr. Bolger said.
Minority Democrats, angry that the bill was pushed through the Legislature in a lame-duck session, warned about a political backlash against Mr. Snyder and other Republicans.
“This is the nuclear option,” Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat, told lawmakers. “This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions.”
Teamsters union President James P. Hoffa, who joined a crowd of more than 10,000 who descended on the state Capitol, said right-to-work proponents “are waking a sleeping giant. … I think this is going to really build up the union movement in the long run.”
Mirroring the fury of union activists, State Rep. Douglas Geiss, a Democrat, was more blunt: “There will be blood.”
As legislators debated, a huge throng of union members, not only from Michigan but also Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, swamped the Statehouse grounds and the streets of downtown Lansing, where police in riot gear kept close watch. Bundled against the cold, many protesters banged wooden clubs on plastic buckets as impassioned speakers invoked the civil rights movement.
“No justice, no peace,” they chanted as lawmakers inside the state Senate and House prepared for the final debate.
The Detroit News reported that one trooper used pepper spray to subdue one of the protesters. Two protesters were arrested by midday after they tried to push past troopers to get inside the George Romney Building across from the Capitol, where the governor has an office, state police Capt. Harold Love said.
A tent put up by Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, a business-backed group that supports the right-to-work law, was torn down.