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Wisconsin Passes Walker-Backed Labor Bill After Marathon Debate

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Wisconsin Passes Walker-Backed Labor Bill After Marathon Debate

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By Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News (TNS)

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a labor bill that may bolster Governor Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions after more than 19 hours of debate punctuated by police escorting out protesters and Republican complaints about Democratic “derangement syndrome.”

Opponents spoke for more than ten of those hours on a motion they ultimately withdrew that would have referred the measure to a committee for yet more argument. They offered amendments that they knew wouldn’t be accepted. One lawmaker spoke in verse. Yet the outcome Friday was never in doubt after what Democratic Rep. Robb Kahl called “a really bad play with ugly actors.”

The Assembly granted final approval of the right-to-work bill that allows employees in union workplaces to opt out of dues and membership 62-35 along mostly party lines. Walker has said he will sign it Monday, making Wisconsin the 25th U.S. state to enact such a law, joining neighboring Iowa, Indiana and Michigan.

Democrats portrayed the bill as an effort to weaken unions while bolstering Walker’s appeal to Republicans he will need to win his party’s nomination in 2016 — including this weekend at an agricultural summit in Iowa. Republicans said it would free workers to choose, and would attract businesses.

“Right to work is simple for Wisconsin: It means being more competitive,” Republican Speaker Robin Vos said during debate. “When right to work passes, you are going to empower workers, you’re going to empower workplaces.”

The bill is an assault on Wisconsin’s legacy of fair collective bargaining, said Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic leader.

“I can’t think of any policy, any policy, that’s more antithetical to Wisconsin values, to our very heritage,” Barca said.

Rep. Steve Doyle, a Democrat, gave his speech against the bill with rhymes based on the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” It ended with: “We should all be at home, snuggled up in our beds, with thoughts of bipartisanship dancing in our heads. But as it sits now, there’s no end in sight. Unfortunately Mr. Speaker, it’s going to be a long night.”

Debate had just started Thursday when the Assembly’s speaker pro tempore ordered galleries cleared after protesters began chanting “right to work is wrong for Wisconsin.” Police escorted them out, but they could still be heard.

Democrats complained that the bill was being rushed through an extraordinary session to distract from criticism of Walker’s budget and to promote his presidential bid.

“It’s the workers in this state that are suffering through the politics of our governor’s ambitions,” said Democratic Representative Cory Mason.

Vos said Democrats have “Walker derangement syndrome” and were obfuscating the issue. He and other Republicans said unions would thrive if they serve their members.

“I would think that those workers, if they see that value and that value proposition, that they would continue to pay their union dues,” said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, a Republican. “Are the unions afraid that the workers won’t see value?”

The right-to-work bill is unlikely to have a major economic impact, said William Jones, a historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Organized labor has been in decline for three decades, he said.

Union membership in Wisconsin represented 11.7 percent of the work force in 2014, down from 17.8 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2011, as many as 100,000 pro-union protesters occupied the Capitol during a weeks-long standoff over Walker’s move to curb bargaining for public employees. Only about 300 rallied Thursday for the final Assembly debate, according to a police estimate.

Jeff Constance, 42, a union carpenter, took the day off to drive 325 miles from his home in Superior for the rally — even though it was clear the bill would pass.

“I’m hoping at the last minute they might actually look out the window and see this is not such a good idea,” Constance said at the rally. “All we can do is try.”

Photo: Light Brigading via Flickr

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6 Comments

  1. Lynda Groom March 7, 2015

    Is there some evidence that the system of unionism in Wisconsin needed this reform? This entire matter sounds entirely political and not bassed upon any urgent need. If that is the case then the old saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind.

    Reply
  2. wiprotester March 7, 2015

    Where is the outcry of people and business saying they desperately want this? It isn’t there! Where was the flood of people and business owners to the capital in support of this? You could count them on one, maybe 2 hands! So called rtw came about in the 30’s from segregationists in the South. The argument for it is nothing new -it’s a FRAUD that is about right wing extremism, anti-union views and walkers’ quest for the presidency; bowing to his lords like the kochs. Less than 12% of WI workers are in a labor union so IF a small fraction don’t want to pay union dues (but will still benefit from the contract and legal rep. if they need it!) how many people would that be – a handful? So why the big push by republicans to do this if it is only about this minute amount of people (supposedly)? IT’s a sham. Welcome to Fascism in Wississippi. Can we “choose” whether we want to pay taxes now? What about our “freedom” to pay or not pay while reaping the benefits in our state that others pay for?

    Reply
  3. Budjob March 8, 2015

    The electorate in Wisconsin voted Scott NAZI Walker in as their Governor and this is what they have reaped.Walker is a very evil manipulative individual and,so was Adolf Hitler!

    Reply
  4. Tony Torres March 8, 2015

    I hate to be redundant but they voted for Walker 3 times. I will give them the first but not the last two,so they are getting what they wished for,poor dumb bastards! I always considered the people of Wisconsin of course some what down to earth,hard working people,sensible,church going and smart but I am bewildered of how Walker has been able to B.S. these people and vote against their own interests. Simply amazing! The man can sell a freezer to an Eskimo,be afraid people or at least keep an eye on this charlatan.

    Reply
  5. Wedge Shot March 9, 2015

    Isn’t it funny how the demise of the middle class has closely followed the decline in union membership? When all of the unions are gone then no one will speak for the worker and that is exactly what the upper class wants: A powerless worker that they can manipulate.
    It is time to rise up Wisconsin workers. Get off of your knees and show Walker that he is a nothing and a nobody. He thinks he is going to be President because his ego and the millions of dollars from the Koch brothers tell him so. Why would anyone vote for this guy?
    Wisconsin voters look what you have wrought.

    Reply
    1. Lynda Groom March 9, 2015

      Indeed, elections due have consequences. Maybe when the voters realize this action is going to effect everyone’s pocket book they will re-think their voting priorities.

      Reply

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