The legislation, approved on a 22-14 party-line vote in the Michigan Senate, is intended to short-circuit two years of efforts by an advisory commission to come up with recommended ergonomics standards for Michigan employers.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm is certain to veto the bill, but that won't end the debate.
"This is a worker safety issue and, furthermore, we believe the (Labor and Economic Growth) Department has a right to study it and come up with a solution," said Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd. "It has been and continues to be a very thoughtful process, and we believe the commission should be allowed to complete its work."
It's a good bet the disagreement will become part of Republican challenger Richard DeVos' effort to defeat Granholm in November. Republicans already are painting her as unable or unwilling to help fix the lagging economy, and they say she's at least partly to blame for the climate leading to Ford's plan to lay off thousands of workers and close 14 factories in North America.
The mere fact that the state has a committee pondering tighter workplace restrictions is more economic poison, said state Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. California is the only state to have such standards.
"We have to realize we're fighting for jobs, and we can't be different from the rest of the country," said Jones, the chief bill sponsor. "People are leaving Michigan to find jobs."
The Republican leaders claim ergonomics mandates could cost Michigan businesses $500 million a year.
United Auto Workers union safety director Franklin Mirer argues that ergonomics requirements could be turned to Michigan's advantage because automakers are leaders in the field.
"It's an asset, a competitive edge," he said. "Why aren't we using it?"
State Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials report that the number of work-related injuries is declining but add that sprains, strains and overexertion lead to more than half of all workers' compensation claims in Michigan.