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"Right-to-Work" passions running high outside the state capitol

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Passions grew hot inside the state capitol building in Lansing as lawmakers debated "Right-to-Work" legislation.    Those passions also spilled into Lansing’s streets.

Hundreds of union members and their supporters spent much of the day milling around the state capitol grounds, unable to get into the building itself and unwilling to leave.

After a while, a decision was reached to take their protest away from the politicians voting on the "Right-to-Work" legislation and to the group they blame for it being on the agenda in the first place: the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Chanting “What’s disgusting….Union busting!” as they walked, passions grew, culminating outside the chamber building.

One speaker told the protesters “Those folks in the chamber of commerce are going to say to you this is about freedom to choose.    That’s BULLSH*T,” a statement that drew cheers from the crowd. 

John Armelagos is a union nurse.    He says "Right-to-Work" should be especially worrisome in a state with Michigan’s history of organized labor.

“Unfortunately, when n Michigan goes 'Right-to Work"  ... the home of organized labor ...where 75 years ago…brave families occupied the auto plants to form the UAW…and set the foundation for a better way of life…not only for Michigan families but all those in the Midwest…and set the tone for the whole country …in terms of collective bargaining and helping form the middle class…when Right to Work’s instituted,”  Armelagos said with his eyes tearing up, “It’s going to hurt everybody.”

The chamber’s Jim Holcomb insists the Right to Work legislation is good for the average worker, giving them a choice to join or support a union if they wish.   He says it will also attract new business to Michigan by providing, as he says, a ‘stable’ environment.

“There are people who don’t want to be in a union and right now they have no choice.  You either join the union or you are unable to work.  And that’s bad,” Holcomb says, “That restricts talent movement.  That restricts people coming into the state.   And what we heard from the governor today…it restricts companies and industries even looking at the state.   Because of the damage that it does.”

Holcomb bristles at the suggestion that "Right-to-Work" is equivalent to union busting.

“This is not anti-union at all.  This is pro-worker,” Holcomb insists, “Under this legislation unions still exist.   They still can collectively bargain.  They still do everything they do today.  The only difference now the actual employees have a chance to say… that’s good for me I want to belong…or I don’t want to belong.” 

It’s an argument winning few votes outside the state capitol, no matter how many votes it has inside.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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