LANSING (AP) - Prospects were rising for a political brawl over right-to-work legislation in Michigan, with Republican leaders continuing closed-door talks over whether to push for enactment by year's end as labor leaders summoned members statewide to join a noisy show of resistance.
Hundreds of chanting, whistle-blowing union activists packed the state Capitol rotunda and hallways Wednesday afternoon as rumors swirled that bills were about to surface, although none were introduced before the House and Senate adjourned for the day. The demonstrators chanted slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right-to-work has got to go" as security officers and state police stood watch.
State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer called on union members and supporters to converge on the Capitol in bigger numbers Thursday.
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.
After saying repeatedly over the past two years that right-to-work wasn't a priority for him, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder told reporters Tuesday after a meeting with GOP legislative leaders that it was "on the agenda." Majority Leader Randy Richardville told reporters Wednesday that no decisions had been made.
"There's discussions that have gone on. They've gotten more complex," Richardville said, though he would not provide details or a timetable for when the issue might be decided. Many lawmakers in both parties expect the GOP leadership to seek approval in the waning days of a lame-duck session scheduled to end Dec. 20.
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, said there appeared to be enough support from GOP members to gain passage, although he declined to provide a specific number of committed votes.
During a raucous Capitol news conference packed with union activists, Democratic leaders denounced right-to-work as a handout to corporate executives at the expense of workers. They said it was political retribution after organized labor unsuccessfully pushed a November ballot initiative that would have made such laws unconstitutional.
"They have launched an all-out war on the middle class in this state, and it's time we fought it back," said Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, who will be the House minority leader next year.
Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers - 64-46 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. Under their rules, only a simple majority of members elected and serving must be present to have a quorum and conduct business. For that reason, Democrats acknowledged that boycotting sessions and going into hiding, as some lawmakers in neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin have done in recent years to stall legislation unpopular with unions, would be futile in Michigan.
Still, they pledged to use all legal means to stop right-to-work.
House Democrats already have begun withholding votes on some bills to show their displeasure. In the Senate, they demanded that all bills be read in their entirety before votes were taken, slowing the pace to a crawl.
"We're going to fight and we're going to make it as difficult as possible on them," Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said. "We're going to look at every strategy we can."
Results of a poll conducted Nov. 27-29 by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA said 54 percent of Michigan voters generally favor right-to-work laws, with 40 percent opposed.