WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Snyder (R) officially made Michigan a "right-to-work" state on Tuesday, signing into law two bills that significantly diminish the power of unions.

"I have signed these bills into law. ... We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," he said at a press conference on Tuesday evening, just hours after the state House passed the bills.

Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Although business groups and conservatives cast the issue in terms of workplace freedom, unions note that the laws allow workers to opt out of supporting the union although they reap the benefits of the collective bargaining. Since the laws tend to weaken unions generally, unions, as well as President Barack Obama, call the legislation "right to work for less."

Snyder's move is a particular victory for right-to-work proponents. Most right-to-work states are solidly red and in the south. Michigan, however, has one of the highest rates of unionization in the country, is the birthplace of the modern automotive industry, and is consistently a swing state in elections and went for Obama in 2012.

Throughout the day, at least 12,500 protesters showed up at the Capitol in Lansing. The gathering occasionally turned ugly, with punches thrown and pepper spray dispersed.

The GOP-controlled state legislature had fast-tracked the two bills, which authorize right-to-work measures for public and private unions in the state, bypassing the normal committee process and public input period.

Even before Snyder signed the bills, labor unions were investigating ways to possibly repeal them. Labor officials were largely taken off-guard by the rapid push for right to work, believing that Snyder was sincere in his negotiations with them to keep it off his desk.

The governor repeatedly said he didn't want right to work on the agenda, arguing it would be incredibly divisive in the state. In his press conference on Tuesday, Snyder blamed unions' actions for the reason he signed the bill, pointing to their pushing of Proposal 2. The ballot measure, which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, was rejected by voters in November.

"The timing of such is something I didn't seek out," he said. "But really what took place this summer with Proposal 2 triggered the dialogue and discussion on this. I asked labor leaders not to move forward with a ballot proposal because I knew it could trigger a discussion that could lead to right to work being a divisive issue. Unfortunately they moved forward, it became divisive, and it was time to step up and take a leadership position, which I believe I've done, with good teamwork in the legislature."

Previewing the divisiveness that is likely to plague the state politically going forward, National Action Network Michigan civil rights leader Rev. Charles Williams III said in a statement sent out by SEIU, " Because good jobs and so much else is at stake, we will not rest until workers’ rights to a fair and decent wage are restored. Everything is on the table during the next two years.”

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a vocal opponent of right to work who met with the governor to urge him to veto the bills, quickly sent out a statement saying the push to repeal the law needed to begin immediately.

“The effort to reverse this wrong-headed action and restore a Michigan that encourages middle class jobs and race to the top for its workers -– not a crash to the bottom –- begins today," he said.

"Gov. Snyder showed his true colors today: He's a puppet of extreme donors, and he is willing to ignore and lie to his constituents," added AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. "His action will undoubtedly please the Koch Brothers and corporate CEOs, but it will diminish the voice of every working man and woman in Michigan."

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  • Protesters Hold Signs Outside Of Michigan Capitol

    LANSING, MI, - DECEMBER 11: Union members from around the country rally at the Michigan State Capitol to protest a vote on Right-to-Work legislation December 11, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. Republicans control the Michigan House of Representatives, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said he will sign the bill if it is passed. The new law would make requiring financial support of a union as a condition of employment illegal. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

  • Protesters Flood Lansing

    LANSING, MI, - DECEMBER 11: Union members from around the country rally at the Michigan State Capitol to protest a vote on Right-to-Work legislation December 11, 2012 in Lansing, Michigan. Republicans control the Michigan House of Representatives, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said he will sign the bill if it is passed. The new law would make requiring financial support of a union as a condition of employment illegal. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

  • Protesters Flood The Capitol

    Protesters gather for a rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Protesters gather for a rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • A protester walks past Michigan State Police at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Sheet metal workers from Toledo escort an inflatable rat during a march to the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Thousands of supporters rally at the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Union members Brian Brissette, of Auburn, Mich., from left, Tom Gazley, of Romeo, Mich., and Eric Kozlow, of Warren, Mich., watch the Michigan House of Representatives vote on a television in the at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Michigan State Police surround a man who was allegedly knocked off his segway scooter by a sheriff deputy on horseback during a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Protesters gather for a rally in the rotunda at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Thousands of supporter march to the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Michigan State Police stand guard at an entrance to the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Protesters gather for a rally in the rotunda at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Protesters gather for a rally outside the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • RIGHT TO WORK

    Map locating all U.S. states with right-to-work laws.

  • Tuesday Protests

    People begin gathering outside on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 to protest right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Right to Work Michigan

    A protester holds a sign addressed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who refers to himself as "one tough nerd."

  • State Police Brace For Protesters

    Michigan State Police cruisers line the pedestrian walkway west of the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. Lansing authorities were bracing for an onslaught of protesters Tuesday. They increased police presence and planned road closings and parking restrictions around the Capitol for the planned protests against the Michigan legislature's right-to-work proposals which passed last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Right to Work Protesters

    United Auto Workers protest right to work.

  • Tuesday Protesters

    Thousands of protesters gather for a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Michigan Nurses

    About a dozen members of the Michigan Nurses Association stand on the state Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, protesting right-to-work legislation. Organizers say the gathering was meant to symbolize the silencing of unions that nurses say will happen should the legislation become law.(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Silenced

    Debbie Nault from the Michigan Nurses Association stands with other members of the association on the state Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, protesting right-to-work legislation. Organizers say the gathering was meant to symbolize the silencing of unions that nurses say will happen should the legislation become law.(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Longtime Nurse Protests

    Linda Erspamer a veteran nurse of more than 30 years at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, stands with other dozen members of the Michigan Nurses Association on the state Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich., Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, protesting right-to-work legislation. Organizers say the gathering was meant to symbolize the silencing of unions that nurses say will happen should the legislation become law.(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Thousands Gather

    Thousands of protesters gather for a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Blocking RTW Banner

    Protesters stand and block a right-to-work banner on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state legislature last week. Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Holding The Flag

    A protester holds an American flag at a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Protesters In The Capitol

    Protesters gather for a rally in the State Capitol rotunda in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Capitol Filled

    Union workers fill the entire of the Capitol rotunda in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Hundreds of chanting and cheering protesters streamed back into the Michigan Capitol after receiving a court order saying that the building must reopen. The pro-union crowd walked in as lawmakers were debating right-to-work legislation limiting union powers. The Republican-led House subsequently passed the bill with no Democratic support.

  • Led Away

    Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. The Capitol was temporarily closed because of safety concerns.

  • Handcuffed

    Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. The Capitol was temporarily closed because of safety concerns.

  • Blocked

    State Police block protesters outside the Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said. The Capitol was temporarily closed because of safety concerns.

  • Thumbs Down

    David Dudenhoefer, left, a right to work supporter, receives a thumbs down sign from a union worker during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Tensions rose at the Capitol late Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of union members packed into the rotunda area, blowing whistles and shouting slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right to work has got to go." Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session as outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and say rushing it through would poison the state's political atmosphere.

  • Fed

    Protesters eat pizza outside the Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. So-called right-to-work measures generally prohibit requiring unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees, which opponents say drains unions of money and weakens their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it would boost the economy and job creation.

  • Union Workers Rally

    Union workers rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere.

  • UAW President Bob King Waits

    United Auto Workers President Bob King waits outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere.

  • Rally Day

    A union steel worker holds up a sign during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere.

  • Sheet Metal Workers Bring GOP Rats to Protest

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Paul_Pimentel"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1419408869/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Paul_Pimentel">Paul Pimentel</a>:<br />Sheet Metal Workers' Local 292 Detroit on RTW Protest 12/11/2012 Lansing, MI show our support Bob Donaldson Business Manager and Journeyman Earl Gray

  • The Welcoming Committee

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Concernedwm"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Concernedwm">Concernedwm</a>:<br />Gov. Snyder took theses folks away from protecting the public to intimidate and inhibit the voice of the people. G. Hines

  • Protester Paula Merwin, of Leslie, Mich., stands with an American flag outside the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Protester Blake Nance, of Detroit, stands by a line of Michigan State Police guarding the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • A man covers his face after getting pepper sprayed during a protest outside the George W. Romney Office Building in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. Thousands of protesters rallied outside the state Capitol as lawmakers pushed final versions of right-to-work legislation. The GOP majority has used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to speed the legislation through the House and Senate last week, brushing aside denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • United we Bargain Divided We Beg!

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Ryan_Van_Note"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/1640357026/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/Ryan_Van_Note">Ryan Van Note</a>:<br />Ryan VanNote protesting Right to work in Lansing, MI 12/11/12.

  • A protester rallies in front of Michigan State Police at the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Michigan State Police push the crowd back outside the George W. Romney Office Building in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. Thousands of protesters rallied outside the state Capitol as lawmakers pushed final versions of right-to-work legislation. The GOP majority has used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to speed the legislation through the House and Senate last week, brushing aside denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Michigan State Police surround the George W. Romney State Office Building as thousands of protesters rally outside the state Capitol as lawmakers push final versions of right-to-work legislation in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The GOP majority has used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to speed the legislation through the House and Senate last week, brushing aside denunciations and walkouts by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Protesters sit during a rally at the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Michigan State Police push protesters away from the entrance of the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, right, try to enter past Michigan State Police at the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Michigan State Police carry a protester from a rally at the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  • Drew Dobson, of Coleman, Mich., protests at a rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)p

  • Protesters sit during a rally outside the doors of the George W. Romney State Building, where Gov. Snyder has an office in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)