Wisconsin part of recent ‘right to work’ push

Wisconsin part of recent ‘right to work’ push

State lawmakers are likely to consider a right-to-work bill after the first of the year. Similar laws affecting private union membership have been passed in other states.

Republican Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said he will introduce a right-to-work bill in the next session, and leadership of the Assembly and Senate are encouraging the conversation.

Twenty-four states currently have right-to-work laws that say a business cannot sign a contract with a union requiring membership among employees. Most states with laws on the books passed them in the 1940s and 1950s following the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act as an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act.

More recently Michigan and Indiana passed right-to-work laws in 2012 facing huge union protests.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder initially said the issue was not a top priority for his administration.

“I’m not happy being in this situation,” he told a Michigan reporter days before the legislature approved the measure in December 2012. “But given it’s here I’m going to do what I believe is best for the citizens of Michigan, my customers.”

Snyder signed the law hours after it was passed in the legislature nearly two years ago. Supporters of the law said it would bring in business, and unions said it would drive down wages.

Indiana passed a similar law only months earlier.

“Right to work was a very important achievement,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said in 2012. “We’ve already signed agreements with three companies.”

University of Wisconsin history professor William Powell Jones said efforts in Indiana and Michigan, and now Wisconsin, are part of a recent push.

“Now we’re at a point where unions represent less than 10 percent of private sector workers,” Jones said. “That puts the opponents of unions in a position to push even harder for laws, particularly in states like Wisconsin or Michigan that have traditionally had very strong union movements.”

Jones said right to work isn’t exactly like Act 10, the law passed in Wisconsin in 2011 to restrict collective bargaining between public sector workers and state and local governments. Deliberations over that bill sparked protests in Madison.

“It does not prohibit collective bargaining or even restrict the terms of bargaining,” Jones said of most right-to-work laws. “It just restricts the terms of a contract.”

Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that he’s discouraging the issue.

“My position is right now I think for the attention it would draw in this state, just like reopening Act 10, it would be a distraction,” Walker said. “I’ve asked them publicly and privately not to pursue that.”

Lawmakers who are looking at the legislation are looking at models from Michigan and Indiana, but also other Midwestern states.

Any bill could not be formally introduced until after the first of the year, when the new legislative session begins.