MADISON — This week marked the sixth anniversary of a big victory for worker freedom. If liberal lawmakers get their way, it could be the last.
On March 9, 2015, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation making Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state. Thus ended forced union membership — and forced union dues — for private sector employees.
It “sends a powerful message around the country and around the world Wisconsin is the right place because Wisconsin is yet again showing we are open for business,” Walker said at the time.
Unions instantly challenged the law in court. They lost. But Big Labor never stopped their campaign to kill right to work.
Six years later, they just might finally get their wish, thanks to their allies in Congress and the White House.
House Democrats this week passed the so-called Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which, among several other Big Labor giveaways, guts right-to-work laws.
Its future is less certain in the evenly divided Senate, but President Joe Biden, heavily backed by unions, backs the PRO ACT.
Federal law for nearly 75 years has given states the power to enact right-to-work protections, which prohibit forced unionization and compulsory union dues on workers as a condition of employment. The PRO Act would repeal such language and bring centralized control to the federal government — a move under the Biden administration that would spell an end to right-to-work laws.
“This bill would impose a new draconian labor power grab on the country’s employers and employees,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, which has posted an impressive number of victories against forced unionization over the years.
Labor unions say the PRO Act would would protect worker “freedom” to organize.
“It’s a game changer. If you really want to correct inequality in this country — wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power — passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told NPR.
In a release commemorating the signing of the Badger State’s right-to-work law, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said the PRO Act would undermine workers’ rights, undercut Wisconsin’s economy and hamper the state’s business climate.
Beyond eliminating right to work, the bill would get rid of secret ballots for union votes, which could expose workers to threats and coercion. It also would devour the “gig economy,” virtually ending independent contractors like freelancers and independent workers in the construction industry.
“Anti-worker policies like the PRO Act would eliminate freedom of choice in the workplace – empowering unions while undermining workers,” said WMC Senior Director of Workforce & Employment Policy Chris Reader. “Wisconsin workers currently have a choice on whether or not they join a union and pay union dues. Unfortunately, some members of Congress and our governor want to take that choice away.”
Simultaneously, Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposes eliminating right to work. The proposal is expected to go nowhere in a Republican-controlled Legislature that passed the worker freedom legislation.
Data show that right-to-work states routinely experience faster job growth higher wage growth and a more competitive businesses climate, according to WMC and workforce statistics. Between 2001 and 2016, private sector employment in right-to-work states expanded at 27 percent compared to 15 percent in non-right-to-work states. And personal income increased by 39 percent over the period in right to-work-states, 11 percentage points higher than states without the worker freedom law.
“The data has proven that Right to Work states perform better on nearly every economic indicator there is,” Reader said. “While Gov. Evers and his friends in Congress try to sell these policies as pro-worker, nothing could be further from the truth. These pieces of legislation are simply a handout to powerful union bosses who want to coerce more members into their ranks.”