U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks after his tour of the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan, December 10, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
The Michigan legislature is poised to pass controversial "right-to-work" legislation that would prohibit mandatory union membership for employees in the state.
The overwhelmingly Republican state congress is pushing through the legislation, and Democrats are powerless to stop them.
Protests have broken out in front of the state capitol building in Lansing, Mich., as union members and supporters chant slogans reminiscent of the battles overs organized labor in nearby Wisconsin.
Republicans say the legislation is about choice, and allowing employees to decide whether to join a union.
But Democrats, including President Obama, say "right-to-work" is a misleading term for union-busting and the undermining of collective bargaining in favor of corporate interests.
"What they're talking about is giving you the right to make less money," said Obama, speaking at a plant in Detroit.
"What we shouldn't be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions," said the president.
Teachers have staged a walkout to protest the legislation, closing down many school districts in the area.
The Michigan House and Senate have already approved "right-to-work" legislation covering public-sector employees, and they will finish a private-sector version of the bill this afternoon.
All that's left is for Republican governor Rick Snyder to sign them into law, a scenario that seems guaranteed.
Democrats are putting pressure on Snyder, a former businessman with a pro-business record, but that is unlikely to succeed.
Instead, many labor unions are gearing up for a legislative fight over the next two years.
The current bills are attached to an appropriations bill, so it is difficult to overturn.
Opponents will need to gather signatures equal to between 5 and 8 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election--between 160,000 and 250,000 signatures--in order to subject the bills to a referendum where they could potentially be overturned, but that vote wouldn't happen until 2014.
That would be the same time as Snyder's reelection campaign. While he won in 2010 in a landslide, his approval ratings stand at only 35 percent now, and today's legislation might hurt his popularity even more.
Of course, Scott Walker, the embattled governor of Wisconsin, was far more confrontational with local unions, and he still survived a recall effort, so perhaps Snyder is confident of his position.