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Senate to take up right-to-work bill; Rally scheduled

Thousands protest right-to-work bill at state Capitol

MADISON, Wis. - The full state Senate is expected to vote on right-to-work Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. after a shortened public hearing Tuesday that sent dozens of people waiting to speak into a rage.

Senate Republicans cut a public hearing on right-to-work legislation short Tuesday night.

WATCH END OF HEARING

The Senate labor committee began the hearing at 10 a.m. The committee's chairman, Sen. Stephen Nass, had planned to end testimony at 7 p.m. and vote on the bill. At 6:20 p.m. Nass ended the hearing, saying union members had threatened to disrupt the hearing. Dozens of people who had been waiting all day to speak leapt to their feet, shouting profanities at the Republicans.

The committee chair, Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said he was concerned a planned protest would become unsafe.

Nass cited an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying union groups planned to peacefully protest the end of testimony at 7 p.m., calling that a credible threat to the safety of the people at the hearing.

"I think it started to rise to a level where I got concerned. I did get concerned, especially when people were out of their chairs and started to move forward," Nass said.

Nass quickly called an end to testimony and ultimately called for a vote over the objections of union members in the crowd and Democrats on the committee. The bill passed 3-1.

"They short-circuited a public hearing over a rumor that something might happen. That's outrageous. People drove four or five hours to get here, and they just ended the meeting. They didn't listen to them and they ran for the doors," Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha said.

Republicans left the hearing room with a police escort.

After the committee hearing, protestors poured into the rotunda where  police let them protest until 8 p.m. when the Capitol closed.

For the most part, the protestors' exit from the Capitol was short-lived and orderly, but police did make one arrest around 8:30 p.m.

TUESDAY HEARING

More than 1,000 people gathered inside and outside the building during the noon hour Tuesday to protest the legislation, which would stipulate that no one be required to join a union as a condition of employment.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Capitol, the Senate Labor Committee began what was expected to be a lengthy hearing on the right-to-work bill, which was authored by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

"This issue at its heart is about worker freedom," Fitzgerald told the committee Tuesday morning. "That means ensuring that no employer can discriminate against any employee due to their refusal to join or support a labor organization."

Fitzgerald claimed the bill will be a boon to the state's economy, as new businesses will find the state more attractive.

"The bottom line is that to move our state forward, Wisconsin needs a modern economy," Fitzgerald said. "The status quo has served us well in the past, but in order to see our economy continue to compete at a global level, we cannot remain mired in an antiquated system."

University of Oregon Professor Gordon Lafer contradicted Fitzgerald's testimony, saying right-to-work legislation had no correlation to lower unemployment or higher wages.

"What the most rigorous research shows is that all other things being equal, the impact of adopting a right to work law in 2015 is to lower wages by about 3 percent for both union and nonunion workers across the state," Lafer said.

Union groups also testified that they believe the bill could hurt their livelihoods, curtailing training and causing lower wages.

"We do great work, we build quality, we don't ask for BadgerCare and we don't burden the taxpayers with our training costs. I don't understand when we became the problem," union sheet metal worker Mike Mooney said. "What did we do wrong? What part of the economy are we hurting?"

The Assembly has said they will take up the bill next week.

PROTESTS

While the hearing continued inside the Capitol, hundreds gathered outside to protest the bill at noon.

"Brothers and sisters, we gather here today to join together in solidarity to raise our voices for the future of Wisconsin, for the future of our communities and the future of our entire middle class families,"Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said.

Around 2,000 people rallied against the right-to-work bill Tuesday, which was a scene that brought up familiar memories to the 2011 protests against Act 10.

"Right to work affects all workers. It will bring union workers down," non-union worker Karen Greenler, from Edgerton, said.

IBW Local 965 Union Vice President Holly Kaiser said the bill will threaten the future role and impact of unions.

"That's really what the union is all about. It is about solidarity. It's about building our local and other locals so we can provide better benefits and training for all of the members and the families," Kaiser said.

"If this goes through, it's going to deteriorate our benefits and our wages and our middle class lifestyle that we are used to here in Wisconsin. And it's not going to help the middle class or anything that we stand for," said Keith Huldert, with IBW Local 965.

There is another union rally scheduled for Wednesday at noon.


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