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Wisconsin Lawmakers Approve 'Right-To-Work' Bill

Sarah Mittermeier
CC by NC 2.0

The Wisconsin state Assembly has passed a right-to-work bill on a straight party-line vote.

The bill passed Friday on a 62-35 vote, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against. The Senate passed it 17-15 Feb. 25 following eight hours of debate.

It now heads to Gov. Scott Walker, who has said he plans to sign it Monday.

Democrats hoped to convince 14 Republicans to join with them in rejecting the bill. Ultimately, all Republicans voted for it.

Debate went for 19 hours straight, ending shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, as both sides agreed it would.

Democrats railed against right-to-work, saying it was designed to destroy unions and bolster Walker's presidential aspirations.

But Republicans say they want to give private-sector workers the choice of whether to pay union dues. They also say it will lead to economic development.

Things got off to a bit of a raucous start: When lawmakers finally started talking about the substance of the right-to-work bill on Thursday afternoon, they were cut off by a group of protesters in the gallery who started shouting. Even after they were removed, the protesters continued to chant outside the Assembly chamber.

Rep. Rob Kahl, D-Monona, said Republicans were acting against the wishes of private-sector employees and contractors who like Wisconsin's labor laws the way they are now.

"You're taking out the very people that, Mr. Speaker, have frankly supported you over the years. And you're taking out 450 contractors," he said.

Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, told his colleagues that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and that right to work embodies that.

"It’s the freedom of the individual that is most important," he said. "Let them make the choice if they want to be part of this union or not. We don’t care if they do, we don’t care if they don’t. We care if they have the choice. Let the workers make that choice — the individual worker."

Senate debate on the bill las week was disrupted occasionally by protesters shouting from the gallery throughout the afternoon. About a dozen people were removed for interrupting the proceedings.

The bill, which would make it illegal for unions to require nonmembers to pay dues, was fast-tracked through the state Legislature by Republican lawmakers.

  • Wisconsin Public Radio contributed to this report