LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A political brawl over right-to-work legislation is looming in Michigan, with Republican leaders in closed-door talks over whether to push for enactment by year's end and Democrats encouraging union members 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. But when asked how they felt about Michigan becoming a right-to-work state, 47 percent are in favor and 46 percent were opposed — a statistical tie.
Right-to-work advocates were making their presence felt as well. A group called the Michigan Freedom Fund hung a banner across the Capitol's steps promoting a website where backers could sign a petition. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce announced its support this week.
United Auto Workers President Bob King joined the throng of union members. King, who previously met with Snyder, credited the governor for talking with labor leaders but said he must go further.
"I think the governor needs to be leader," King told The Associated Press. "He has said for 2-½ years that right-to-work is divisive. He is the top leader in Michigan. He should say, 'I'll veto a right-to-work bill. Let's get to work together in creating jobs in Michigan.'"
But King said he wasn't optimistic.
"The indications aren't good. We wouldn't be here if we didn't think they were going to put right-to-work on the floor," he said.
Shana Alderton, director of field services for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Michigan, was among the throng at the Capitol.
"The plan is to be here as long as we have to stop this foolish legislation," Alderton said amid the din of banging, chanting and whistling.
In Grand Rapids, demonstrators chanting and picketing inside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel called for Dick DeVos to end financial support for right-to-work legislation. DeVos is an heir to the Amway business fortune and a Republican activist.