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Michigan workers jam Capitol to protest union plan

DETROIT (Reuters) - In a scene reminiscent of Wisconsin, hundreds of pro-union protesters jammed the Michigan state Capitol on Tuesday to oppose a bill that would give emergency managers authority to break labor deals to revive failing schools and cities.

About 1,000 pro-union demonstrators gathered on the Capitol steps in Lansing, Michigan, then 400 entered the building to occupy the rotunda and floors overlooking as the Republican state Senate moved the bill toward a final vote expected Wednesday.

New Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's proposal would expand the powers of emergency financial managers who are named to oversee faltering school districts and cities. The House approved the measure in February. Republicans hold a 26-12 Senate majority.

In Wisconsin, protesters occupied the Capitol Building in Madison for weeks to protest new Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposals to limit public sector union powers for collective bargaining and require yearly recertification votes.

With Michigan cities and school districts struggling from the severe recession and potential state funding cuts, the bill expands the power for the state to name financial overseers.

The state's biggest school district, the Detroit Public Schools, was put under the emergency financial management of by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2009. It is the only district in the state under emergency management.

Brent Gillette, political director for the AFL-CIO in Michigan, said he was frustrated that Republicans did not discuss it in advance and sees parallels to the power-reducing union limits proposed in Wisconsin.

"I've heard him say more than once that he wants to be transparent that he wants to talk across the table, he doesn't want this to be Wisconsin," Gillette said of Michigan's Snyder. "Unfortunately, this bill says to me that he wants to take on the same fight as Wisconsin. He just wants to do it from the back door."

Steve Benkovsky, director of Capitol facilities, said demonstrators filled the base of the rotunda, the second and third floor balconies and filtered onto the fourth floor. He estimated the crowd at about 400 inside and 1,000 total.

"They seemed pretty well behaved other than being boisterous," Benkovsky said. No arrests were made.

(Writing by David Bailey)

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