December 18, 2014

Union head says members preparing for Wisconsin right-to-work fight (AUDIO)

Protesters in Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: WRN)

Protesters in Wisconsin state Capitol (PHOTO: WRN)

The head of a major state union group says his members are preparing for an expected debate over making Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Discussions about a bill took off last week, after a group with conservative ties announced its formation and a state lawmaker said he was working on legislation. Then, Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the debate was unavoidable and his chamber would likely take up a proposal early on in the session. Governor Scott Walker has so far said the issue is not a priority.

Right-to-work laws prohibit employers from entering into labor contracts that require union membership as a condition of employment. Supporters say passing a law in Wisconsin would give workers more choice in the workplace and claim studies show states have added jobs after instituting a right-to-work policy. Wisconsin State AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt argues those laws have actually hurt labor markets in other states, which he contends have seen wages drop and workplace safety decline because workers have less power.

While it remains unclear exactly how the bill would address the issue, Neuenfeldt says they are not going to “sit and wait” for it to drop. He says the AFL-CIO has been actively working with its affiliates and other like-minded groups. “We are trying to do everything we can to try to encourage people to not support this. We are doing everything we can to educate people about why this is bad.”

Talk of introducing a bill has also prompted concerns about another wave of massive union protests at the state Capitol, similar to when Governor Scott Walker introduced legislation in 2011 that stripped the collective bargaining powers away from most public employee unions. A month of protests brought tens-of-thousands of people to downtown Madison and included a lengthy occupation by demonstrators.

AUDIO: Wisconsin State AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt (:35)

While Neuenfeldt says it’s too early to say what kind of response a right-to-work bill would generate, he expects the public will more than willing to weigh-in. “It’s still a Democracy, and that means a bill has to have a public hearing and the public has to have a right to make their voices heard.”

Andersen leaves Wisconsin after just two years on the job (Video)

Barry Alvarez press conference

Barry Alvarez press conference

For just the second time in the last three years, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez will spend the holiday season looking for a new head football coach.  He must also consider whether he’ll accept the seniors invitation to coach the Badgers in the New Years Day Outback Bowl after Gary Andersen said he’s leaving Wisconsin after just two seasons on the job.

Andersen has accepted the head coaching position at Oregon State, replacing Mike Riley who left the school to take over at Nebraska.  Oregon State plans to introduce Andersen at a news conference on Friday.  Anderson told Alvarez he was leaving Madison for family reasons.

Alvarez certainly didn’t see this coming.  But what’s somewhat concerning is that Wisconsin has all of a sudden become a stepping stone job.  Alvarez will be looking to change that with his next coaching hire.

The Wisconsin athletic director said he wants to find a new coach with head coaching experience.  He said it has to be a good fit for Wisconsin and Badger nation is hopeful the next coach will be somebody that wants to stick around for a while. [Read more…]

Andersen is leaving Wisconsin after two seasons

Gary Andersen

Gary Andersen

Head football coach Gary Andersen has informed the Wisconsin football team at a team meeting this afternoon that he is taking the head coaching job at Oregon State University.  Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez has immediately started a national search for a new head football coach.

“I began working to find a new head coach as soon as I spoke with Gary this morning,” Alvarez said.  “My first concern is taking care of the players on the current team, especially the senior class, and ensuring that their bowl experience is a memorable one.  I will find a head coach to uphold the great tradition at Wisconsin, someone who is committed to excellence both on and off the field.

Alvarez is scheduled to meet with the media at a news conference today (5:15 p.m. at Camp Randall Stadium).

Andersen was hired by Barry Alvarez to replace Bret Bielema, who left to take the head job at Arkansas.

The Badgers (10-3) are scheduled to play Auburn Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl at Tampa, Florida.

Andersen is scheduled to be introduced at a press conference in Corvallis on Friday afternoon.

Governor Walker maintains right-to-work a ‘distraction’ in Wisconsin (AUDIO)

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Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will continue urging lawmakers to reconsider plans to pursue right-to-work legislation next session.

The governor says any debate over making Wisconsin a right-to-work state would be a distraction at the Capitol, although that’s not stopping fellow Republicans from saying they plan to introduce a bill early on next year. Walker is asking lawmakers to drop the issue though, telling reporters at the Capitol Friday that “I’ve asked them publicly and privately not to pursue that…because I think it would distract from our ability to take on the other reforms we’ve talked about.”

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker on right-to-work (:49)

The governor, who sponsored a right-to-work bill in the 90s, says his stance on the issue has not changed. However, he says it’s premature to comment on whether he would sign legislation if it makes it to his desk. Democrats have asked the governor to threaten to veto a bill to end the debate, but Walker says that’s not something he’s willing to consider.

Fitzgerald says open debate on right-to-work unavoidable in Wisconsin

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (PHOTO: WRN)

Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (PHOTO: WRN)

The top Republican in the state Senate says the Legislature “cannot avoid engaging in an open debate of Right to Work,” so he plans to take up the issue early next session. Appearing on conservative Milwaukee radio host Charlie Syke’s show Thursday morning, Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said lawmakers “can’t tiptoe through this session without addressing this…We’re not tackling this six months from now…We have to deal with this issue right now.”

Typical right-to-work laws prohibit employers from requiring union membership as a condition of employment. In a statement released after the appearance, Fitzgerald said what form a possible bill would take remains unclear. He said “While we do not know what a state-specific version of Right to Work will look like in Wisconsin, we owe it to the people of the state to have a true public policy discussion on the issue. That means examining the laws of the 24 other states that have already adopted some version of these protections and working with representatives of the private sector to determine the best fit for Wisconsin.”

Fitzgerald also claimed that recent nationwide polling from Gallup has “shown that an overwhelming majority of Americans are supportive of some version of Right to Work legislation and many of Wisconsin’s businesses have adopted individual versions of these protections for their workers.”

Fitzgerald’s comments are the latest in a series of developments in the right-to-work debate, which Republican leaders insisted on the campaign trail was not a priority. A group with conservative ties announced Monday that it was going to work to advance a bill next session, while a Republican lawmaker in the Assembly also disclosed that he’s working on legislation that will be introduced next session.

Governor Scott Walker has so far remained uncommitted to backing a bill, with his office restating that his “focus is on growing Wisconsin’s economy and creating jobs. Anything that distracts from that is not a priority for him.”

Democratic leaders were quick to seize on Walker’s non-committal comments. Both Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) released statements urging the governor to “put the brakes” on discussions. Barca argued “this would be an extremely polarizing policy at a time when we should be working together to improve Wisconsin’s economy,” while Shilling urged Walker to promise to veto any legislation that makes it to his desk.