Wisconsin Considers Right-to-Work Bill, Renewing War With Unions

CHICAGO (Bloomberg News/TNS) -

The prospect of a renewed fight between Republicans and organized labor in Wisconsin has increased with an announcement that senators will vote this week on making Wisconsin a so-called right-to-work state.

On Friday, a spokeswoman said that Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate, would sign the bill.

State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the chamber’s Republican leader, told a Milwaukee radio station Friday that he’ll push for a vote on a yet-to-be-introduced bill that says private-sector workers can’t be required to join unions or pay dues as a condition of employment. Republicans control both houses of the legislature.

“We’re ready to go,” Fitzgerald told WTMJ-AM radio in Milwaukee. “Certainly, we’ve had enough discussions that I’m confident the governor would sign it.”

Republican-led efforts to weaken unions are advancing in the nation’s industrial Midwest. The Missouri House of Representatives approved a right-to-work bill two weeks ago, and newly elected Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for curbs on union contracts at the local level.

Indiana and Michigan, with Republican legislatures and governors, became right-to-work states in 2012. Union membership in Wisconsin represented 11.7 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fitzgerald’s surprise decision to press for a vote comes four years after Wisconsin was rocked by protests after Walker moved to restrict collective bargaining for most public employees. While the governor said in December that a right-to-work bill would be “a distraction,” Fitzgerald wants to force the issue.

Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Walker has been a supporter of right-to-work legislation.

“If this bill makes it to his desk, Governor Walker will sign it into law,” Patrick said in an e-mail.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said in an e-mailed statement that Walker is trying to destroy the labor movement.

“Right to work legislation is part of a national anti-worker agenda that won’t bring one job to our state or help a single family put food on the table,” she said. “Instead, it’s an attempt to end unions as we know them.”

While Walker’s collective-bargaining law provoked a firestorm in 2011 and led to recall elections, the move established his reputation as a governor willing to fight. After becoming the first state chief executive in U.S. history to survive an ouster vote in 2012, his status among some conservative Republicans soared and encouraged talk of a 2016 presidential bid.