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Questions Remain Over What Right-to-Work Means for Wisconsin

LaToya Dennis

Wisconsin is now the 25th state to criminalize labor deals that require private-sector workers to pay dues.

It’s unclear how the new right-to-work law might play-out for businesses and employees here, not to mention unions.

Gov. Walker said on Monday he was signing freedom to work legislation. The new state law will let workers to decide whether to pay union dues.

“When I think about that couple where dad may work at a factory and mom may be a nurse at a local community hospital and they’ve got two kids in school and they’re struggling to make ends meet, every single day when we do things like this our goal should be, and it is, to make sure we improve their lives. Their quality of life, their ability to raise their family in the way that they see fit, without the struggles of worrying about the mortgage or how to pay the bills. This is one more tool in helping us build the kind of economy that will help a family like that here and across the state of Wisconsin,” Walker says.

When it comes to business, Walker says right-to-work is simply one more indicator that Wisconsin is open for business, a phrase he coined shortly after becoming governor in 2011. Walker signed the legislation at the company Badger Meter. Rich Meeusen is CEO. He says for years he’s been moving what had been union jobs to Mexico, but right-to-work will allow him to add 30 to 50 workers in Brown Deer.

“A few hundred feet from where I’m standing, right over there, there’s a large open space which we have cleared for possible new production of a water meter. It’s also important to know that we have a very similar space in our facility in Nogales, Mexico.  To fill one of these two spaces we have approximately $2.5 million of equipment currently on order. The equipment is now scheduled to arrive this summer here in Wisconsin,” Meeusen says.

Meeusen says Badger Meter and its union have a great relationship and he doesn’t expect that to change.

Cheryl Maranto says while things won’t change tomorrow, it remains to be seen what right-to-work might lead to in the future. Maranto is chair of Marquette University’s Department of Management. She says right-to-work states typically have lower wages and fewer benefits than union states, but it’s unclear what came first—kind of like the old chicken or the egg question.

“Were the state already different and that caused them to pass the right-to-work laws or did they pass the laws and then that caused the changes to make them different,” Maranto says.

Maranto says right-to-work is a win for unionized companies.

“Clearly, they reduce union membership,” Maranto says.

Maranto says fewer union members mean they hold less power when it comes to bargaining with employers.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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