Wisconsin Republicans are forging ahead at breakneck speed with a bill meant to cripple the state’s unions. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) said Friday he would sign the “right-to-work” bill after lawmakers called an extraordinary session to push the legislation through next week.
“Right-to-work” laws are designed to severely weaken unions by forcing them to provide services without payment from workers. While Republicans argue the laws free workers from union dues and make businesses more competitive, evidence from other states that have implemented similar laws paint a bleak picture. A report from the Economy Policy Institute found that all workers, regardless of whether they belong to a union, lose an average of $1,500 a year in wages as a result of these laws. States with right-to-work laws also tend to see less upward mobility than the rest of the country.
Former Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz (R) warned that Walker’s embrace of right-to-work will backfire, saying the governor is “courting civic strife.”
“This is going to hurt Wisconsin employers terribly in the long run, as the workforce gets more angry,” he told ThinkProgress. “I represented a lot of blue-collar labor people, both union and non-union. So I know that even the wages of non-union workers are determined by collective bargaining. They may not be paying for it, but it has an impact.”
Wisconsin lawmakers’ haste in advancing the bill, which was quietly released Friday afternoon, is also raising eyebrows.
“It’s a cowardly move to make certain the public can’t be heard on this issue and rush it through in a special session,” Schultz said. “They ought to be embarrassed or ashamed. I thought they would have at least gone through the trouble of having a sham public hearing, but they don’t even think that’s necessary here.”
Walker’s previous anti-union efforts were met with massive protests and triggered calls for the governor’s recall. Mike Browne, a progressive activist with One Wisconsin Now, told ThinkProgress he suspects lawmakers are moving quickly to try to avoid another uproar.
“They’re trying to do it as fast as they possibly can so people won’t be able to mobilize,” Browne said. “That’s why you call an extraordinary session. That’s why you announce it on a Friday afternoon. They know that when people find out, they aren’t going to like it.”
Browne and his fellow organizers are trying to sound the alarm as quickly as possible and “educate people about what this means not just for unions, but for all workers.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) acknowledged they were trying to move the bill fast to keep labor groups from mobilizing against it. “When you have the votes, you’ve got to go,” Fitzgerald told conservative radio host Charlie Sykes. “If we give the unions the opportunity to load, and suddenly we see sixty-second spots… that changes the dynamic and I’m not going to wait around for that.”
Michigan similarly rushed through a right-to-work law during a lame-duck session in 2012, inciting outcry in the historic union stronghold. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) saw his approval ratings plummet after he signed the bill into law, making him one of the most unpopular governors in the country. That backlash may be one reason why Walker, who also took a public opinion hit after his 2011 union-busting law, was cautioning against moving too quickly until recently. Just a few months ago, Walker called the effort a “distraction.”
Schultz said he was not surprised that Walker had changed his tune, but worried about the potential for a partisan blowup. “I’m a Republican. I fought my battles with unions,” he said. “But I’m a guy who would listen to everyone. This winner take all politics is not in anybody’s best interest.”