Right-to-work front and center in Wisconsin

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. – Nothing sets off the left’s freak-out meter quite like these three little words: right-to-work.

And organized labor and the pols who love them hit DEFCON 2 on the scale of apoplectic reaction Thursday after state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he’d like to see the Senate move rapidly in passing a right-to-work bill.

“I call on Governor Walker to put the brakes on this divisive issue that clearly will damage Wisconsin’s middle class,” said Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a statement.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, seized on the left’s catch phrase in predicting the Wisconsin sky would fall under a right-to-work law.

“It’s not a question of whether ‘Right to Work for Less’ will be a distraction for our state — it already is,” Shilling said. “Rather than creating economic uncertainty for Wisconsin families and businesses, we need to be focused on growing the economy and creating jobs.”

SIGN OF WHAT’S TO COME? Big labor held massive protests in Michigan in late 2012 before the state passed its right-to-work law. Wisconsin could be next up. Will mass union-led protests return to the Badger State?

Supporters say growing the economy and creating jobs is exactly what Wisconsin would do if it became a right-to-work state.

“The arguments about harm to workers and lower wages are just completely unfounded,” said Scott Manley, vice president of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group. “If you look at right-to-work states you’ll find wages that grow faster than states without right-to-work. You find job growth that is more rapid than non-right-to-work states.”

At the moment, 24 states have right-to-work laws on the books — laws that ban compulsory payment of union dues or fees.

On average, those states saw private sector, nonfarm employment rise 16.2 percent between 2003 and 2013 compared to 9.3 percent in the so-called forced-unionism states, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

The conservative NILRR describes its mission as providing the “supplementary analysis and research necessary to expose the inequities of compulsory unionism.” The data used in the report is from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

NILRR also found that over the period real employee growth increased 15.1 percent in right-to-work states, while the increase was 8.2 percent in states with compulsory unionism.

Growth in manufacturing was even more striking, according to the data. During the 10-year period, growth in real manufacturing in states that ban mandatory dues payable to labor unions lapped those states that mandate dues, 26.1 percent to 13.8 percent, according to data taken from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Manley said Wisconsin has missed out on a lot of economic development opportunities without a right-to-work law in place.

“Business site selectors looking to deploy capital will completely pass over states without a right-to-work law,” he said. “We don’t even get serious consideration.”

In a survey earlier this year, WMC members said that only lowering Wisconsin’s tax burden ranked above right-to-work legislation among the most important things the Legislature could do to improve Wisconsin’s business climate. The organization boasts some 3,800 members, including both large and small manufacturers, service companies, local chambers of commerce and specialized trade associations.

“We ignore one or the other (dealing with taxes and right-to-work) at our own detriment,” Manley said.

Beyond the job and income growth statistics, right-to-work proponents say, is the essential rights question of allowing employees to decide whether they want to pay a portion of their paycheck to that labor union.

Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, says contrary to the rhetoric from the left, there is nothing in right-to-work laws that prohibits organized labor in the workplace or interferes with collective bargaining.

“This is clearly a liberty question, with workers being able to choose how their money is spent,” Semmens said.

Right now, workers at union shops in Wisconsin’s private sector cannot opt out of paying dues to their union, even if they decline membership.

Unions pump a lot of money into politics and lobbying, efforts that go well beyond the scope of their collective-bargaining duties. The vast majority of that money goes to Democratic Party candidates and causes.

NILRR studies of U.S. Department of Labor financial reports found labor unions spent $2.2 billion on political operations between 2007 and 2010, and another $1.7 billion between 2011 and 2013.

“It’s important to note these figures are just the spending that can be documented,” Semmens said. “The actual amounts are certainly higher, we just don’t know how much more because some unions don’t have to file disclosure reports.”

You can count on big labor spending big again to fight any effort in Wisconsin to become a right-to-work state.

There’s a lot to lose for organized labor, whichalready has lost big through Gov. Scott Walker’s signature Act 10, the public-sector collective bargaining reforms that have cost labor unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, significant membership and money through lost union dues. Turned out that when some public employees had the choice to not join a union or pay dues, they didn’t.

Moving Act 10 was a knock down, drag out fight that didn’t end after the bill’s passage and Walker’s signature or after the tens of thousands of protesters, many of them brought out by big labor, finally left Wisconsin’s Capitol. It took the Wisconsin Supreme Court to finally declare that Act 10 was indeed constitutional before that three-year political war ended.

Fitzgerald sounds intent on moving right-to-work legislation forward in the Senate, and urgently.

“We can’t tiptoe through this session without addressing this,” Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told WTMJ-Radio on Thursday. “We’re not tackling this six months from now. We’re not tackling this a year from now. … There’s no way we avoid this issue. We have to deal with this issue right now.”

But that may be a tough sell for some members of Fitzgerald’s party, including the leader of Wisconsin’s GOP.

“As he has said previously, Governor Walker’s focus is on growing Wisconsin’s economy and creating jobs. Anything that distracts from that is not a priority,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Thursday in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.

Democrats are counting on Walker’s reluctance.

“Governor Walker is correct when he says this is a distraction we cannot afford,” state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, by not stating publicly that he will veto this legislation, Governor Walker himself is creating the very distraction he said he wants to avoid. If he truly does not support this attack on Wisconsin families he needs to state publicly that he will veto it.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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