Thousands protest Michigan's 'right to work' bill

Thousands of anti-union protesters march in freezing temperatures outside Michigan's Capitol building in response to the "right to work" legislation being pushed through the state House. MSNBC's Ron Mott reports from Lansing.

By M. Alex Johnson, NBC News

Thousands of people packed the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday to protest the likely passage of legislation that would sharply limit labor rights.

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Lawmakers are expected to approve measures that would make Michigan — one of the most union-friendly states in the country — the 24th "right to work" state, banning workplace rules that make union membership a condition of employment.

As many as 10,000 people descended on the Capitol, State Police estimated, prompting authorities to restrict access to the building because it was at its capacity of 2,000. The overflow filled the lawn and stretched down East Michigan Avenue to the Lansing Center across the river several blocks away.

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Law enforcement officials said they wouldn't let Michigan become another Wisconsin, where demonstrators occupied the state Capitol around the clock for nearly three weeks last year to protest similar legislation.

Armed with tear gas canisters, pepper spray and batons, State Police officers guarded the Capitol as protesters shouted "No justice, no peace!" and "Shut it down!" NBC station WILX of Lansing reported.

On the lawn, four large inflatable rats were set up to mock Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, Senate Republican leader Randy Richardville, and Dick DeVos, a prominent conservative businessman who union leaders say is behind the bills.

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Schools in at least three districts were closed because so many teachers and other staff were at the rally.

"The long-term effect is this is union-busting at its best," Robyn Price, a union representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, told NBC station WDIV of Detroit.

The Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, state coordinator for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said he still held out hope that Snyder could be persuaded to veto the bills, saying, "This is an issue for the greater community."

But that's unlikely. Snyder has said he supports the legislation, calling it "pro-worker," and is expected to sign the bills as soon as they reach his desk.

Getty Images

Union members from around the country streamed to the State Capitol to protest a vote on 'right-to-work' legislation Lansing, Mich., on Tuesday, Dec. 11

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