Michigan lawmakers voted Tuesday to approve contentious "right-to-work" legislation that could significantly reduce the power of unions in the state.
The votes by Michigan's Republican-led House of Representatives came even as thousands of pro-union demonstrators protested outside of the capitol building in Lansing.
The measures, which are expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, ban unions from requiring employees to join a union or pay the equivalent of union dues as a condition of employment.
The House voted 58 to 51 in favor of a bill covering public sector employees and 58 to 52 in favor of a bill covering private sector employees, including the auto industry.
With the Michigan Senate already approving the measures last week, the bills now head to Snyder's desk and could be signed as early as Wednesday.
However, opponents are expected to mount a legal challenge of the bills, claiming that Republicans pushed the measures through the legislature without public input.
Snyder and other Republican lawmakers have argued that the measures are about providing freedom of choice and will help Michigan be more competitive.
"We owe much to the labor movement -- the end of child labor, the 40-hour work week, safe working conditions in factories, and a guaranteed minimum wage," Snyder said. "The labor movement is an important part of Michigan's fabric, and nothing about this proposal eliminates it."
He added, "But we also have another great history in our state and our country, and that's the freedom of association -- it's the constitutional right upon which workers' ability to organize as unions is founded. Implicit in that right, though, is choice -- the freedom to choose to belong, or not belong, to a union."
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama spoke out against the bills in an appearance in Redford, Michigan, on Monday, arguing that the legislation would take away workers' rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions.
"These so-called 'right to work' laws, they don't have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics," Obama said in remarks at a Daimler plant. "What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."
"You only have to look to Michigan -- where workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry -- to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class but a stronger America," he added.
Once the bills are signed by Snyder, Michigan will become the 24th "right-to-work" state in the nation. Indiana passed similar legislation earlier in 2012.
The approval of the legislation comes on the heels of recent high-profile battles over union rights in Ohio and Wisconsin.
by RTT Staff Writer
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