The Wisconsin AFL-CIO and two other unions filed suit to block the state’s new right-to-work law less than 24 hours after Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the legislation he called “Freedom to Work.”
President Obama voiced his support for the unions and accused Walker of “weakening the middle class” with the legislation.
“It’s inexcusable that, over the past several years, just when middle-class families and workers need that kind of security the most, there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government,” Obama said.
“So I’m deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy. Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past.”
This is the second time Gov. Walker has won ferocious battles with labor unions and Democrats in Wisconsin. They squared off the first time when Walker signed legislation limiting collective bargaining by public-sector employees.
Not only did Walker win legislative approval for that proposal in 2011, he defeated attempts to force him out of office with a recall election after he signed the bill.
Under so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which is also the law of the labor land in 24 other states, private-sector employees are no longer forced to pay union dues to work in formerly “closed shops” where union membership was required for employment.
However, those who refuse to pay dues are still protected by labor agreements at their places of employment.
Proponents of the legislation also stress workers maintain the right to contribute to unions. However, contributions are voluntary.
Labor leaders in Wisconsin and the 24 other states have waged unsuccessful battles against “right-to-work” proposals, claiming the legislation is at its heart, nothing but an overt attempt to break up unions, or at the very least, dilute their political influence.
The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO argued on a blog posted the day Walker signed the legislation, “Gov. Walker continues to tip the scales against working class families in favor of his millionaire and billionaire buddies who fund his campaign.”
The union lawsuit alleges the legislation places an unfair financial burden on the labor unions.
The suit argues the dues, which employees of union shops are no longer required to pay, “are the primary source of income for these organizations, without which they would be unable to fulfill their purposes of collective bargaining and the representation of employees, including nonmember employees” and “the representation of these nonmembers costs a substantial sum of the property of the labor organizations.”
The suit also accuses the legislation of being an “unfair labor practice” in violation of Wisconsin law.
A circuit court judge declined to block the law in a March 19 hearing for the lawsuit.
Walker has argued nothing is more unfair than forcing workers to join a union as a condition of employment.
“This legislation puts power back in the hands of Wisconsin workers, by allowing the freedom to choose whether they want to join a union and pay union dues,” Walker said. “Freedom to Work, along with our investments in worker training, and our work to lower the tax burden, will lead to more freedom and prosperity for all of Wisconsin.”
Walker signed the legislation in Brown Deer, Wisc., at Badger Meter, a manufacturing company that has eight production facilities, including four in the U.S.
Because of the passage of the legislation, Rich Meeusen, the president of Badger Meter, said the company would move forward with production expansion plans, and the creation of 30-50 new manufacturing jobs in Brown Deer.
“Today represents a turning point for Badger Meter, as we start adding jobs in a Freedom to Work state,” Meeusen said. “Today also represents a turning point for our employees as they now have a choice regarding union membership.”
Meeusen also said there would be no reduction in pay or benefits to union or non-union employees at Badger Meter.
Business leaders across Wisconsin backed the Freedom-to-Work proposal and celebrated when Gov. Walker signed it.
“Governor Walker has put our state on the national landscape for job creation and business expansion by signing Right-to-Work legislation today,” said Kurt R. Bauer, the president and CEO of WMC, Wisconsin’s chamber of commerce.
“Governor Walker’s visionary leadership on reforming government unions, and now providing workplace freedom to private sector workers, has made our state a national leader in expanding economic freedom and prosperity for our citizens.”
Bauer added: “Combined with tax relief, regulation relief and lawsuit reform, the Walker era is an era of growth, hope and opportunity that has seen job creation go up and unemployment go down.”
Whether it is called “Right to Work” or “Freedom to Work,” Wisconsin voters overwhelmingly supported the legislation by a margin of 69 percent to 26 percent, including a majority 51 percent from union households, in a poll released by WMC.
“Voters strongly support the legislation, and they do so on a bipartisan basis,” said Scott Manley, vice president of government relations for WMC.
The poll also found that 76 percent of ticket splitters supported the proposal, along with 91 percent of Republican voters. Democrats supported the measure by a margin of 48 percent to 44 percent.