On a narrow 17-15 vote, the Wisconsin state Senate passed right-to-work legislation Wednesday night. “There will be no more important jobs bill in this chamber over the next two years, than the bill before us today,” said Majority Leader, Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) early in the debate, which lasted nearly eight hours.
Republicans rejected several amendments offered by minority Democrats, while Democrats implored Republicans to break from leadership and vote against the controversial measure, which has been fast-tracked at the Capitol. “Do what you know is right,” said Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). “If in the back rooms you can say you don’t like it, have the courage to stand out here.”
In the end, Senator Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon), a former union member from the Wausau area, was the only Republican to vote against the bill, saying in a statement that he was “not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.”
“Here we are. In the midst of a $2.2 billion deficit, here we are. A hail Mary to please outside special interest groups,” said Minority Leader, Senator Jennifer Shilling. “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.”
Democrats have argued this week that the bill is unneccessary, opposed by many businesses, and harmful to workers. Republicans argue right-to-work is about the freedom of individual workers to not join unions, and they claim it will make Wisconsin a more attractive destination for businesses. If passed and signed into law by Republican Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin would become the 25th right-to-work state. Walker, who initially called the issue “a distraction,” has said he’ll sign the bill.
Observers in the Senate galleries broke into applause for Democrats – and chanted and booed Republicans – numerous times during the debate. Several were escorted out by police officers. The remaining observers broke into a chorus of “shame” as the final vote was taken.
Fitzgerald spoke with reporters afterwards, and conceded that the benefits of right-to-work – which he earlier referred to as “a game changer” for Wisconsin, might not be readily discernible once the law takes effect.
The bill’s progress this week has been marked by protests by labor organizations and supporters, and more of that is expected when the state Assembly takes up right-to-work next week.