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Snyder signs Michigan anti-union 'right to work' measures over protests of thousands

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law two bills Tuesday sharply limiting labor rights, which the House passed over the objections of thousands of people packing the Capitol in protest, some of whom chanted "Shame on you!" from the gallery.

"This isn't about us versus them. This is about Michiganders," Snyder said at news conference in the state capital, Lansing, where he announced that he had signed the legislation.

By a 58-51 vote, the Republican-led House passed a bill that would ban workplace rules that make union membership a condition of employment for government workers. It then approved a second bill, covering private-sector workers, by a vote of 58-52. 

When the new rules take effect, probably in late March, Michigan — one of the most union-friendly states in the country —will become the 24th "right to work" state, making payment of union dues voluntary even though the union negotiates on a worker's behalf.

Snyder told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that he was "pro-collective bargaining," but he said right-to-work laws denied workers freedom of choice.

"I think it's a good thing," he said of the legislation. "I think it's pro-worker."

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As the vote was taking place, as many as 10,000 people descended on the Capitol, State Police estimated, prompting authorities to restrict access to the building because it was at its capacity of 2,000. The overflow filled the lawn and stretched down East Michigan Avenue to the Lansing Center across the river several blocks away.

About 200 onlookers filled the gallery overlooking the House floor Tuesday. As debate resumed on one of the bills, the session was interrupted with protesters yelling, "Shame on you," NBC News' Nadine Comerford reported.

After the votes, protesters then moved to the building housing Snyder's office, chanting, "Governor Snyder, just say no!"

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Law enforcement officials said they wouldn't let Michigan become another Wisconsin, where demonstrators occupied the state Capitol around the clock for nearly three weeks last year to protest similar legislation.

Armed with tear gas canisters, pepper spray and batons, State Police officers guarded the Capitol as protesters shouted "No justice, no peace!" and "Shut it down!" NBC station WILX of Lansing reported

State Police officials confirmed that one of their troopers used pepper spray on one protester. Police spokesmen said the man was sprayed when he grabbed a trooper and tried to pull her into the crowd.

The man wasn't arrested, but two other people were arrested after they tried to force their way into another building on the grounds where Snyder has offices, police said. 

A tent set up by supporters of the measures also collapsed amid what authorities described as "pushing and shoving" among protesters. No one was hurt, police said.

Elsewhere on the lawn, four large inflatable rats were set up to mock Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, Senate Republican leader Randy Richardville, and Dick DeVos, a prominent conservative businessman who union leaders say is behind the bills.

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Schools in at least three districts were closed because so many teachers and other staff were at the rally.

Valerie Constance, a developmental reading instructor for the Wayne County Community College District and a member of the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."

Scott Hagerstrom, director of the Michigan affiliate of the activist group Americans for Prosperity, said the new laws would be "a win-win for Michigan's economy, for individual freedom."

"What a lot of these protesters may not realize is that after this bill passes, they can still belong to a union. It'll just be their choice. They just can't force their co-workers to give their hard-earned money to a private organization," he said.

But Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, called it "a terrible result."

"Workers want a voice and ... they want to be sure when conditions are set that they're part of the process," he said in an interview on msnbc.

Valerie Constance, a developmental reading instructor for the Wayne County Community College District and a member of the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."

But Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, hailed the votes, saying the made for "a great day for Michigan's workers and taxpayers,"

"I would like to congratulate Michigan's workers for their newly protected freedom to work without union affiliation as a condition of their employment," Mix said.

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