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State Senate Passes Right-to-Work After Long Night of Debate

Greg Neumann / WKOW

The Wisconsin state Senate passed a right-to-work bill Wednesday on a vote of 17-15.

The measure would prohibit companies from forcing workers to join unions as a condition of employment.

The bill now heads to the Assembly, where it’s certain to pass, and Gov. Scott Walker has promised to sign it.

Credit Jessie Opoien/The Capital Times
State Senate voting on the Right-to-Work bill.

There were impassioned pleas on both sides of the issue in the Senate.

The author of the bill, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, says right-to-work is what Wisconsin needs to jump-start its economy.

“Over the last decade 24 right-to-work states experienced an average job growth of 5.3 percent, adding 3.6 million jobs. Right-to-work states experience an average wage growth of almost double the rate of forced union states. Right-to-work states grew manufacturing gross domestic product at nearly double the rate of forced union states,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald says employees would see more money in their paychecks, because they wouldn’t have to pay union dues.

“Giving workers the ability to keep more of what they earn will have the greatest positive impact of some of Wisconsin’s lowest wage earners,” Fitzgerald says.

Fitzgerald says right-to-work simply gives employees freedom of choice. However, the bill met stiff opposition from Democrats. Sen. Julie Lassa says quality of life is worse in right-to-work states.

“I submit that if the people of Wisconsin were aware of what happens in states that adopt right-to-work, support for what you are doing today would be non-existent. The fact is that families in right-to-work states are poorer. They are poorer and less economically secure than in other states,” Lassa says.

Outside the Capitol, hundreds of union members rallied against the bill. Phil Gruber represents the Machinists Union. He insists the economy is better in states that allow union membership.

“Is government so stupid that they don’t realize that the middle class American people are the economic engine of this country? Do they not realize that? Because when we make good wages and we have the security of good benefits like health care and a pension at the end of our working day, we the middle class spend money,” Gruber says.

In addition, opponents heckled lawmakers from the Senate gallery and Capitol police escorted several people out of the building.

Another note: one Republican crossed over and sided with Democrats on the issue.

Sen. Jerry Petrowski of Marathon voted against right-to-work. He issued a statement, saying he’s a former member of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and wasn’t convinced right-to-work would benefit Wisconsin.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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