Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 12, 2012

Thousands protest in Lansing

Union members and allies fill the Capitol Rotunda

LANSING (AP) — Thousands of protesters infuriated by efforts to dilute the power of organized labor swarmed the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday as Republicans voted to make financial support of unions voluntary.

Union members and their allies came from all corners of the state to express disgust at the right-to-work legislation. They filled the Capitol Rotunda, beat buckets as drums and loudly chanted pro-union slogans while House lawmakers put finishing touches on legislation. Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" blared through the cold air.

Michigan State Police used pepper spray to subdue a protester outside the Capitol who tried to pull a female trooper into a crowd. There was no arrest in that incident, but two people were arrested nearby when they tried to get into a state building named for former Gov. George Romney, Capt. Harold Love said. A third arrest for obstruction also was reported.

All the arrests were for misdemeanors, said state police spokeswoman Tiffany Brown, who thanked union organizers for helping keep the protest peaceful.

"Throughout the day, union marshals and captains worked very well with troopers and the House and Senate sergeant at arms to help maintain safety and order of people both inside the Capitol and outside," Brown said.

After the House voted, the crowds thinned but thousands remained, mostly near the Romney building, where Gov. Rick Snyder has an office. Dozens of troopers joined by sheriff's deputies on horses moved shoulder-to-shoulder to sweep that area and build a buffer. Protesters bundled up against 30-degree temperatures shouted profanities at officers.

Elsewhere, a big tent erected on the Capitol grounds for supporters of the legislation collapsed with the help of pro-labor hands. There were no injuries, Love said.

The crowd, mostly people in their 30s or older, had teachers, retirees and blue-collar workers in hardhats. Signs read, "What's Disgusting? Union Busting." Inside, Republicans who control the Legislature sent the right-to-work legislation to Snyder, a fellow Republican.

Supporters said it would attract more business to Michigan and give workers freedom to skip the union. Opponents said it would lower wages and divide labor and management. They roared with approval when the Rev. Jesse Jackson entered the Capitol, offered encouragement and dropped to the floor with about 70 other people, temporarily blocking a path.

Sharon McMullen, a union member and staffer in the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the legislation would have an impact.

"A lot of people like to freeload, but we are required by law to represent everybody," she said. "A lot of people will use the system but not pay dues."

Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Labor International Union of North America, told a rally that lawmakers who vote in favor will be targeted.

"We are going to take you on and take you out," he said.

Edward DeRocher, a 50-year-old carpenter from Walled Lake, held a sign that read, "One Tough Turd," a commentary on Snyder's 2010 election slogan, "One Tough Nerd." Inflatable rats were displayed, poking fun at Snyder and GOP leaders.

"This is redistribution of wealth from us working-class people to the more fortunate," DeRocher said.

Rick Sule, 58, a retired electrician and union member from Saginaw, said Republicans are in trouble in the next election.

"The unions will not support a person who doesn't support us," he said. "In two years, we'll see what happens."

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