LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a bitterly contested right-to-work plan limiting the power of unions, a devastating and once unthinkable defeat for organized labor in a state considered a cradle of the movement.
Unswayed by Democrats' pleas and thousands of protesters inside and outside the state Capitol, the House approved two final bills, sending them on to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. One dealt with private sector workers, the other with government employees. Both measures cleared the Senate last week.
Snyder is expected to sign the measures into law as early as Wednesday that would make Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Supporters say they give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labor by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.
"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said. "These are basic American rights - rights that should unite us."
Democrats offered a series of amendments, one of which would have allowed a statewide referendum. All were swiftly rejected.
"This is the nuclear option," Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat from Taylor. "This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions. And it will have personal hard feelings after this is all said and done."
Protesters in the gallery chanted "Shame on you!" as the measures were approved. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting, "No justice, no peace."
Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for the right-to-work bills last week, said opponents had a right to voice their anger but predicted it would fade as the shift in policy brings more jobs to Michigan.
"As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team's winning," he said.
In other states such as Wisconsin and Indiana, similar battles were drawn-out affairs lasting weeks or months. Wisconsin went a step further than Michigan, enacting legislation that stripped most public-sector workers of their right to collective bargaining.
Snyder, a business executive-turned-governor, and the Legislature's GOP majority used their political muscle to rapidly introduce and ramrod legislation through the Michigan House and Senate in a single day last week.
Snyder insisted the matter wasn't handled with undue haste and that right-to-work state was a long-discussed issue in Michigan.
"There has been lots of time for citizens to contact legislators and share their feelings," he said in an interview with WWJ-AM.
In Michigan, the right-to-work movement gains its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions repeated setbacks.
Opponents said they would press Snyder to use his line-item veto authority and remove a $1 million appropriation from the bills, making them eligible for a statewide referendum.
Lawmakers who backed the bills "will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014," said Rep. Tim Greimel, the incoming House Democratic leader.