If all goes as expected, Michigan is poised to become the 24th state to implement right-to-work laws which would give employees the option of not contributing a portion of their paychecks for unions to negotiate on their behalf. The plan is seen to be a major setback to organized labor and has Democratic legislators making intimidating comments.
"There will be blood, there will be repercussions," State Democratic Rep. Douglas Geiss, speaking on the House floor on Tuesday, warned ahead of the votes.
The State Senate passed the plan earlier this year, prompting the House to take up the measure Tuesday under a cloud of intensive union pressure. Gov. Rick Snyder says he will sign the measures into law as early as Wednesday. However, Democrats say they will use parliamentary tactics to delay the bills as long as possible.
"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said. "These are basic American rights – rights that should unite us."
The two different bills were voted on addressed both private and public sector unions and were passed largely along party lines. Republicans hold a 64-46 majority in the House and although many legislators on both sides of the aisle grew up in union households, there was little suspense in the outcome.
Thousands of supporters representing both sides of the debate descended upon the state capitol of Lansing Tuesday. At one point Tuesday morning, authorities closed the capitol after the citizens exceeded the capacity of the building.
Nonetheless, pro-union protesters appeared determined to be heard before the day's votes were cast. As legislators walked from their offices to the capitol, shouts of "Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" reverberated from the hallways. Once voting on the first bill concluded, the House Speaker was forced to gavel the chamber to order as shouts of "Recall! Recall! Recall!" were heard.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and several state legislators were subjected to recall elections earlier this year after legislation was passed prohibiting collective bargaining for public sector employees. Republicans held on to four of six recall elections.
Lawmakers who backed the bills "will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014," said Rep. Tim Greimel, the incoming House Democratic leader.
Despite being outnumbered, Democrats were still willing to fight until the bitter end to protect the thousands of votes that in decades past have fallen largely on their side.
"This is the nuclear option," Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat from Taylor, told reporters. "This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions. And it will have personal hard feelings after this is all said and done."
Republicans, on the other hand, are touting the economic benefits of being a right-to-work state as the reason that risked their own political capital in bringing forth the legislation.
Although President Obama carried Michigan, Wisconsin and other union laden states such as Ohio, pundits say organized labor has taken a huge blow nationwide and in the rustbelt states where they have traditionally been the strongest.
In an appearance in Michigan on Monday to make his case for higher taxes on the wealthy, he took another swipe at the GOP.
"You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics," said Obama, during a visit to a truck factory outside Detroit on Monday. "They have everything to do with politics. What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."
Earlier this year, Indiana became the first state in the industrial Midwest to approve right-to-work laws.