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Wednesday, December 12,2012

Taking Up The Fight

by Sam Inglot

By 5 p.m., it seemed like there were more Michigan State Police troopers on the Capitol grounds than protesters.

As organized labor supporters chanted, marched, sang, sat-in, got arrested, faced pepper spray and tore down tents of their opponents, the more than 10,000 estimated protesters at the Capitol Tuesday could do little to stop Right to Work legislation from moving easily through the Legislature and onto Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk to be signed into law. By 5:45 p.m., Michigan became the 24th Right to Work state in the nation; the law takes effect in 90 days.

After thousands of protesters marched from the Lansing Center to the Capitol Building at about 9 a.m., the day quickly went from calm to chaotic. Once protesters reached the Capitol, it wasn’t long until the building was at capacity and no one was allowed inside. Within the halls of the building, protesters chanted and banged on railings. The crowd moved smoothly through the building as the State Police controlled foot traffic. Protesters were not allowed to stop on the stairs or in the MSP-made walkways through the crowd of people. At one point, the Capitol was at capacity. It took about 90 minutes for people to be allowed back inside by order of the state fire marshal.

Dozens of Michigan State Police troopers were on the scene and were posted at every entrance and on every level of the Capitol, many of them clad in riot gear with riot batons on their hip. East Lansing Police and Michigan State University Police were also at the Capitol, but they had very little interaction with the crowds.

Shortly before noon, a tent smack dab in the middle of the protest hosted by the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity — a main Right to Work supporter — was torn down by protesters. Police marched in, accompanied by several mounted units. The police formed a baton line and forced protesters off the remnants of the tent. Americans for Prosperity President Scott Hagerstrom was led off the grounds by union marshals as people heckled him from behind. (Visit www.lansingcitypulse.com for a video interview with Hagerstrom as he’s being heckled.)

Shortly after noon, the House got moving. By a 58-51 vote, it passed HB 4003, giving public-sector employees the option to pay union dues, excluding police and firefighters. The bill then headed to Snyder’s desk. The Senate (which adjourned at about 11:30 a.m.) had passed it on Thursday with amendments that needed to be approved by the House.

About 90 minutes later, the House passed SB 116, giving private-sector employees the same option to pay union dues. All that stood in the way of Michigan’s becoming the nation’s 24th Right to Work state was Snyder’s stroke of the pen.

Upon learning that the House had passed the legislation, dozens of protesters sat down in the middle of the rotunda. For about four hours after the first bill passed, the crowd both inside and outside of the Capitol was peaceful but still energetic with persistent chants and rants of “Snyder’s a rat!”

Around 4 p.m., protesters outside turned their attention to the Romney Building, where Snyder’s office is on the second floor. Several protesters tried to rush past state troopers on the scene but were stopped. Two arrests were made initially; a third came later. All three were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, State Police spokesman Kevin Sweeney said. 

By 5 p.m., after protesters continued to crowd the Romney building and unfolded sleeping bags to try blocking a driveway, downtown Lansing was quiet again — perhaps in shock that in less than a week, like a cannonball, the Right to Work debate launched and blew up collective bargaining as we’ve known it.

(Freelance reporter Patrick Lyons contributed to this story.)

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