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Walker won’t promise right-to-work veto

Associated Press

Things to know about
right-to-work in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — There’s been a flurry of activity this week over right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin.

Here are the latest developments:

WHAT IS RIGHT-TO-WORK? Under right-to-work laws, private-sector workers can’t be forced to join unions or pay union dues. Twenty-four states, including Michigan and Indiana, have such laws. The Wisconsin law passed in 2011, known as Act 10, places similar prohibitions on most public workers, but it did not cover those in the private sector.

WHO IS SAYING WHAT: Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Thursday he wants to see right-to-work taken up early next year, even though there is no proposal yet and he doesn’t know what form it might take. His comments came the day after Republican state Rep. Chris Kapenga said he planned to introduce a bill. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he looks forward to having the issue debated, but gave no timeline for action. Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday said he didn’t want the Legislature to take it up because it would be a distraction, but he isn’t promising to veto a bill should one pass.

THE PR CAMPAIGN: A longtime conservative activist in Wisconsin formed a group advocating for right-to-work on Monday. The group launched a radio ad statewide on Friday making the case that a right-to-work law would be good for Wisconsin’s economy. Democrats and labor unions promise to fight the measure, but they were unable to prevent Walker and Republicans four years ago and now the GOP has even larger majorities in the state Legislature.

WHAT WOULD A BILL LOOK LIKE? Fitzgerald said he’s considering a bill that would exempt some skilled labor unions, such as the operating engineers, who have backed Republicans in recent years. Wisconsin would be the first of 24 states with right-to-work laws to have such an exemption. Fitzgerald said the exemption would make sense because those labor groups help train workers in their industries, not due to their political support of Republicans. But Fitzgerald stressed there is not final proposal and he’s considering numerous iterations of right-to-work laws.

WHAT ARE THE STATS? Last year in Wisconsin, 12.3 percent of private- and public-sector workers were members of unions, just above the national average of 11.3 percent, based on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

WHAT’S NEXT? The Legislature convenes its next two-year session on Jan. 5, when Walker is sworn-in for his second term along with members of the Senate and Assembly. A right-to-work bill could be introduced shortly after that, and the public would get a chance to weigh in at some point at a public hearing before it is debated.

— SCOTT BAUER, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s reluctance to take a firm stand on a new push by Republican legislators to act quickly on right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin mirrors how Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder dodged the issue in 2012 before he signed that state’s bill into law.

Walker sponsored a right-to-work bill as a freshman Assembly member in 1993, but he didn’t go after private-sector unions once elected governor in 2011. Instead, the changes in the law known as Act 10 only pertained to public-sector workers, and excluded police and firefighters.

But now Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he wants to move forward a right-to-work proposal that would bar private-sector unions from forcing workers to join or pay dues, similar to the restrictions Act 10 put on those working for the state and local units of government, including schools.

Walker, who is preparing to begin his second term and is actively considering a run for president in 2016, reiterated Friday that he would prefer lawmakers would focus on his priorities and not take up the issue, but he refused to say whether he would sign or veto a right-to-work bill.

“My position is right now, for the attention it would draw into the state, it would be a distraction,” Walker said.

Walker also said his position on right-to-work hadn’t changed since 1993 when he sponsored the bill.

“My position now is the same as it was two years ago before the recall, the same as it was two month ago before the election, the same as it will be two years from now,” he said.

It’s significant that Walker refused to promise a veto if Republicans who control the Legislature take up the bill and his approach on the issue is similar to how Snyder handled it two years ago, said Paul Secunda, labor law professor and program coordinator for Marquette Law School’s Labor and Employment Law Program in Milwaukee.

After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course in December 2012, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution. He refused to say whether he would sign such a bill but never closed the door, saying he had other priorities.

Snyder said the union-backed ballot measure publicized the matter and that he was influenced by Indiana’s decision to become a right-to-work state the year before.

Introduction of Michigan’s right-to-work bill generated mass protests. But the Legislature moved at lightning speed to pass it just five days later with no public testimony. Snyder signed it into law the same day.

Secunda initially thought Walker may want to avoid the issue until after any potential presidential run plays out, but now he thinks there may be a benefit to quick action to deal with the issue and then move on.

“If I were Scott Walker … I would think that signing it in a lightning-quick manner would be less detrimental to my national political aspirations,” he said.

While Walker hopes the Legislature doesn’t take up right-to-work at all, he said that if they do, he hopes it doesn’t come until after the state budget passes likely sometime around July.

Democrats, labor unions and other opponents argue right-to-work is bad for workers, hurts the economy and is intended to weaken the power of unions and its political influence. Supporters say such laws give workers more freedom since they aren’t required to join unions or have dues deducted, and argue such laws help attract businesses.

Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., also contributed to this report.

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