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Politics & Government

Right-to-Work Momentum Appears to Be Slowing in Wisconsin

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Andy Simonds, Flickr
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Right-to-work laws ban mandatory union dues in the private sector workplace.

Several supporters of right-to-work wanted the Legislature to pass a measure in early 2015. Now, state Senate leadership appears to be eyeing spring, at the earliest, after voters in one district elect a new senator - ostensibly a conservative one.

While Gov. Walker promoted right-to-work when he served in the Legislature, he now says it would be a distraction. GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he understands the governor's concerns.

“He doesn’t want the ruckus and all of the things that came with Act 10. I don’t think anybody wants that. But I also think that it’s a major public policy decision that once again, may jumpstart the economy and create jobs, so it’s complex,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald says lawmakers need more time to gain a better understanding of the impacts of right-to-work and of how certain industries here operate.

In December, a new business group formed to oppose right-to-work - the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition. Spokesman Steve Lyons says it now has 350 members, most of them businesses that have a working relationship with unions. He says they basically serve as a job placement agency for contractors.

“They’ll say, I need 30 welders, and the union will supply 30 welders. They know they’ve been drug-tested, state-of-the-art-facilities-trained. You know that all the certifications have been dealt with and addressed, so you know that the folks that walk onto that site are ready to go and are going to be high-quality folks, highly-trained and are ready to build,” Lyons says.

Lyons says the government should not insert itself into relationships businesses want to have with labor unions.

He says his coalition will lobby Wisconsin legislators to abandon any notion of passing a right-to-work bill, but he says members do not plan to demonstrate at the Capitol – as public sector workers did in 2011, when the state passed Act 10, weakening their unions.

Among the organizations that advocate for right-to-work in Wisconsin is the business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. It insists that states that allow private-sector workers to decide whether or not to pay union dues have greater job growth, and workers have more disposable income, than in states without right-to-work.

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