He and legislative leaders denied opponents' contentions that the bills were designed to weaken unions by depriving them of funds needed to bargain effectively or were retaliation for the ballot initiative, which organized labor spearheaded. They said a "freedom to work" law would make unions more responsive to members' needs and give employees freedom to decide whether to accept union representation.
"This does not change collective bargaining and this is not anti-union," Bolger said. "It is pro-worker."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof said a number of factors influenced the decision to push ahead, including Snyder's endorsement and the ballot initiative, which put right-to-work in the spotlight. Primarily, however, Republicans recognized they had enough votes to capture a long-sought prize, he said.
"I wouldn't say there was a sense of urgency, but a sense of opportunity," Meekhof said.
Democrats contended Republicans, who lost five House seats in the November election, wanted to act before a new legislature takes office next month. In passionate floor speeches, they accused the majority of ignoring the message from voters and bowing to right-wing interest groups.
"These guys have lied to us all along the way," said Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer. "They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they're going to hightail it out of town. It's cowardly."
Eight protesters were arrested for resisting and obstructing, said state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk. At one point, officers barred entry to the Capitol as a safety measure, saying the building was overcrowded. It was reopened after unions successfully petitioned Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk for an order overturning the move.
In the end, the bills sailed through -- even though some Republicans were opposed. The Senate approved a measure dealing with private-sector workers 22-16. As Democrats stormed out of the chamber, a second bill applying to government employees was passed, 22-4.
The House approved a private-sector employee bill 58-52. Both chambers are expected to approve two identical measures next week. Leaders said they would include exemptions for police and firefighters, who are covered by existing law requiring binding arbitration for their labor disputes.
A $1 million appropriation was tacked onto the bills for what a House spokesman described as implementation and worker education activities. Spending bills are legally protected from being overturned by statewide referendums.