In a surprise move, Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature have announced they plan to introduce right-to-work legislation and pass it through the state Senate by as early as the end of next week.
State Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes this morning that he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) plan to introduce the bill today and call an extraordinary session to take it up next week. Fitzgerald said the measure could receive a public hearing early next week at the Capitol and vote in the Senate by Thursday morning.
The specific language of the bill is not yet available, although right-to-work legislation typically bars employers from making union membership a condition of employment.
Lawmakers floated the idea of pursuing right-to-work legislation after strengthening their majorities in both chambers last November. The measure has faced pushback, and lawmakers had indicated they might wait to take it up until after the state budget was complete. Even Governor Scott Walker has argued that tackling the controversial legislation would be a “distraction” from other important issues facing the state right now. Fitzgerald told Sykes that he wants to move now though, since he has the 17 votes needed to pass the bill and the Assembly is also on board.
As for whether Governor Walker’s position has changed, Fitzgerald said he has “been supportive” of the idea. The Juneau Republican stopped short though of saying that Walker has promised to sign the bill if it passes. A spokeswoman for Governor Walker did indicate late Friday morning that he would sign the legislation, if it makes it to his desk.
In a statement, Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) called it “absurd” that Republicans would move to fast-track legislation that interferes with private business contracts. She also noted ““Objective polling clearly shows that the vast majority of Wisconsin residents view this issue as a distraction. Rather than creating economic uncertainty for Wisconsin families and small businesses, Republicans should focus their attention on boosting family wages, closing the skills gap and fixing the $2.2 billion budget crisis they created.”
Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said in a statement that “there is broad agreement among workers, businesses and everyday citizens that Right to Work is wrong for Wisconsin. Yet the governor and Republican lawmakers have proven they will do anything to change the subject from their mismanagement of Wisconsin’s economy, including driving down wages for our workers and further dividing our state.”
The measure could potentially reignite the massive union battles the state saw four years ago, with tens of thousands of protesters marching on the state Capitol after Walker and Republicans introduced a bill stripping most public employees of their collective bargaining powers. Fitzgerald said you can’t base your vote on the possibility that things might “get ugly,” and Senators know “this is the right thing to do.”