Legislature in Midst of Extraordinary Session on “Right to Work”

Last week, legislative leaders announced an extraordinary session of the Wisconsin legislature to pass Right to Work legislation. Soon after the announcement, Governor Scott Walker said he would sign Right to Work into law if the bill reaches his desk. Right to Work laws are designed to protect employees from being forced to pay dues to a labor union as a condition of hiring or continued employment. Under the bill, employee unions would continue to exist, existing labor contracts would remain in effect and workers would be allowed to join a union and pay dues, if they choose. Twenty-four states are already Right to Work states, including Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. Wisconsin will become the twenty-fifth state if the bill is signed into law.

Senate Bill 44 (SB 44), introduced on Monday, February 23, by the Senate Committee on Organization, “generally prohibits a person from requiring, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to refrain or resign from membership in a labor organization, to become or remain a member of a labor organization, to pay dues or other charges to a labor organization, or to pay any other person an amount that is in place of dues or charges required of members of a labor organization.” Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau. The proposed bill, based on Michigan’s Right to Work law, would first apply to a collective bargaining agreement containing provisions inconsistent with the act upon the renewal, modification, or extension of the agreement occurring on or after the effective date, which would be the day after the act’s date of publication.

Upon introduction, SB 44 was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform, chaired by Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater). After an eight-and-a-half hour public hearing, citing a “credible threat” published on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s website that the Service Employees International Union and Voces de Frontera planned to disrupt the committee’s proceedings, Chairperson Nass called the public hearing to a close. He then immediately moved the committee into executive session and after a brief discussion, the committee recommended SB 44 for passage on a 3-1 vote (Chairperson Nass, Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Senator Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) voting “aye,” Senator Robert Wirch (D-Kenosha) voting “nay,” and Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), not voting).

SB 44 was debated on the floor of the state Senate on Wednesday, February 25th and after eight hours of debate, the bill passed on a vote of 17-15 (all Senate Republicans voting “aye,” except for Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) who, along with all Senate Democrats, voted “nay”). Upon receipt in the state Assembly, the bill was referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor, chaired by Representative André Jacque (R-DePere). A hearing will be held on Monday and Assembly concurrence is expected by the end of next week.