Compared to the demonstrations that took place four years ago during the Fleebagger crisis in Wisconsin, the Right to Work debate seems tepid in comparison. Protesters occasionally demonstrated in the gallery, but this time legislators kicked them out quickly. In the end, only a few die-hard union activists were on hand to watch as the legislature put an end to closed shops and forced dues payments in Wisconsin:
— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) March 6, 2015
Weary Wisconsin lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that stops private sector workers from being required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment and sent it to Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it on Monday.
The Republican-led state Assembly voted 62-35 on party lines to make Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work” state, a measure supported by Walker, an early favorite in the battle for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
The final vote came after 24 hours of debate in the Assembly and two weeks after state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald announced plans to take up a “right-to-work” bill.
Lawmakers passed the bill at the end of a 24-hour marathon session. WISN showed earlier in the morning that the rotunda — which was repeatedly filled for weeks during the Act 10 reform debate — was eerily empty as the legislature wrapped up debate:
In other words, the unions have run out of gas after three years of attempting to hijack state government. The 2013 recall broke their back, and left them vulnerable to the next logical step in labor reform. Instead of finding ways to move on after the 2011 embarrassment and perhaps adapt to the shift in political fortunes, they chose to double down and target Republicans down the line. After losing in 2013 and again in 2014, the unions left themselves politically isolated.
The Journal-Sentinel explains the measure in detail:
The legislation prohibits the decades-old practice of contracts being signed between businesses and unions requiring private-sector workers to pay labor fees. The federal Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 allowed states to pass such legislation — one of the few areas where states can affect private-sector unions. So far, 24 other states have passed right-to-work.
Under federal law, unions are required to represent everyone in a work unit, even those who don’t belong to the union.
Supporters say workers should get to decide whether to pay their own money toward unions and argue having such a law in place would help lure businesses to Wisconsin. Opponents say unions and employers should be able to reach contracts as they see fit and that it’s reasonable to require all employees to pay their share of the cost of representing them.
“Right-to-work gives power to the individual,” said Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh).
The MJS also noted the contrast in protests from four years earlier:
On Thursday night, a small crowd of protesters milled outside the Assembly chamber holding signs and occasionally singing and chanting. Earlier, two people were arrested for shouting profanities and refusing to stop, according to a spokesman for the Capitol Police.
Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill on Monday. At the start of this session, Walker actually advised against giving RTW a high priority this year, but Republicans had run on the promise to address it and wanted to clear it off the agenda quickly. That turned out to be a smart strategy; the next elections are 20 months away, and the issue will fade from public debate soon. By the time it comes back up in 2016, unions will have even fewer resources with which to bargain, especially since Big Labor money will almost certainly focus on national elections.
It’s quite a cultural earthquake in the Upper Midwest. And it’s an example for Republicans in other states to follow.
Update: MacIver Institute has pictures from the protests, and they’re every bit as classy and eloquent as you’d expect. Therefore, NSFW.