Issues

Wisconsin Set to Become 25th Right to Work State

Legislature passes pro-worker-choice legislation

Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill next week. / AP

Wisconsin is on track to become the 25th right to work state after the state assembly passed legislation on Friday.

Lawmakers voted 62-36 to approve legislation that would end the practice of forcing all employees to join a labor union as a condition of employment. Republican Speaker of the House Robin Vos said that the law would attract businesses to the state and expand employee self-determination.

"Right to work is right for Wisconsin.  It’s now time to make it work for Wisconsin and our economic future by bringing more jobs and businesses to our communities," Vos said in a statement. "Workers will finally have the freedom they deserve."

The house vote mirrored a state Senate vote that passed in February. The upper chamber passed right to work on narrow party lines 17-15.

"Wisconsin’s right-to-work law ensures Wisconsin residents’ personal freedoms are not trampled upon. Right-to-work laws do not prevent workers from organizing a union and encourage union leaders to be more responsive to their paying members," state Sen. Mary Lazich said in a statement after the Senate vote. "The Wisconsin legislature sends a message to businesses that unions will not call the shots to the detriment of the state and the detriment of individual rights."

Labor unions decried the legislation, saying that it was designed to please the libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch.

"Right to Work (RTW) is a national campaign designed to limit the power of unions. Fresh from their victories in Michigan and Indiana, the billionaire Koch brothers and the 1% are aiming to make Wisconsin the next right to work state," the state chapter of the SEIU says on a website dedicated to right to work.

The region, long considered a labor stronghold, has seen significant labor reforms in recent years, as Republicans have taken control of several state governments. Wisconsin is the latest Midwest state to adapt worker freedom laws after Michigan and Indiana enacted right to work laws in 2012.

Right to work is the second major labor reform that Walker will sign since taking office. Walker’s public sector reforms spurred raucous protest and a recall campaign from labor groups in 2011. The law helped close a multi-million dollar budget gap, and Walker became the first American governor to survive a recall. He is now a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Right to work advocates hailed the legislation as the capstone of labor reforms in the state with Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, calling on Gov. Walker to implement the reforms quickly.

"No person should be forced to financially support a private organization they do not agree with as a condition of getting or keeping a job," he said in a statement. "Now that Wisconsin’s State Assembly has joined the State Senate in voting to expand workplace freedom for Wisconsin workers, we call on Governor Walker to act swiftly and sign the bill into law."

Walker is expected to sign the bill next week.