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What Is Right To Work? Your Questions Answered About Michigan Anti-Union Legislation

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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) | AP

LANSING, Mich. — Here are five things to know about right-to-work legislation approved by the Michigan Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder:


It isn't about a right to work but rather a right for workers to choose whether they want to join a union or pay fees that amount to union dues. The legislation prohibits what are known as "closed shops," where workers have no choice but to join a union or pay those fees.


The GOP majority used its superior numbers and backing from Gov. Rick Snyder to ramrod legislation through the House and Senate last week. They brushed aside denunciations and challenges by helpless Democrats and cries of outrage from thousands of union activists who swarmed the state Capitol hallways and grounds. Snyder signed the bills into law Tuesday, hours after the final House votes.


Supporters, including Republican leaders in the Legislature and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, insist it's about freedom of association for workers and a better business climate. Critics, including Democrats and Michigan's sizable labor contingent, contend the real intent is to bleed unions of money and bargaining power and allow nonunion workers to get the perks without paying for it. Thousands protested at the Michigan Capitol, but even they acknowledged before the final votes that it would inevitably become law.


Michigan becomes the 24th state with such laws. Victory in the Great Lakes State gives the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor already has suffered several body blows. Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin recently pushed through legislation curbing union rights, sparking long, massive protests.


Law enforcement officials vowed Michigan won't become "another Wisconsin," where demonstrators occupied the state Capitol around the clock for nearly three weeks. They took steps to prevent that.

Last Thursday, eight people were arrested – and a few of them pepper-sprayed – after authorities say they disobeyed orders and tried to rush past two state troopers and into the Senate chamber. Out of concerns for the safety of people and the historic building, authorities said, they temporarily closed the building and kept hundreds outside. A judge later ordered it reopened.

Police say they are mindful of the need to keep "the people's house" open if at all possible but are keeping a close eye on areas that are becoming overcrowded and would close them off if necessary. They also significantly stepped up police presence to correspond with the number of demonstrators coming from across the state and beyond.

They say they used pepper spray again Tuesday to subdue a protester outside the Capitol who had his hands on a female trooper being pulled into a crowd. Police also arrested two people after they tried to get into a state office building where the governor has an office.

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