By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A group of business leaders opposed to making Wisconsin a right-to-work state announced 50 new members Monday, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said any debate over the idea likely won’t happen until after the April 7 election.
Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws, under which private-sector workers can’t be forced to join a union or pay union dues. Fitzgerald said in December that he wanted to see the Legislature act quickly this year on the issue, but that in recent weeks he’s backed off those comments.
On Sunday, Fitzgerald made clear on the WISN-TV show “UpFront with Mike Gousha” that there would be no Senate vote soon. Fitzgerald said “not much will happen” on right-to-work until after the April 7 election to fill a vacancy caused by Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman’s election to Congress.
Three Republicans are running for that seat. Once it’s filled, the Republican majority in the Senate will be 19-14.
“I’m hopeful that at some point there will be enough momentum to at least take a vote on the bill itself,” Fitzgerald said about right-to-work.
His spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said in a statement Monday that there is no vote count in the Senate or even a “concrete idea” of how a bill may look. It’s likely that any debate would happen after the April 7 election, she said, because that “could bolster the margin of support for any potential bill.”
Gov. Scott Walker has repeatedly said he doesn’t want the Legislature to take up right-to-work early in the year because it would distract from his agenda. Walker will spell out most of his plans for the state in his two-year budget on Feb. 3.
Fitzgerald said he understood Walker’s argument that it’s best to avoid large protests like those seen in 2011 over the passage of what came to be known as Act 10, the law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.
“He’s concerned that if right-to-work would turn into Act 10, and that the Capital is suddenly swarmed with protesters and everything we went through during Act 10, that it sends a strange message to people outside of Wisconsin that maybe Wisconsin isn’t the place to expand your business or, to certainly locate,” Fitzgerald said.
Also on Monday, the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition that formed in mid-December to oppose right-to-work announced that it has grown from 300 members to 350 construction-related businesses. It also announced a five-member board of prominent business leaders who are leading the effort to defeat right-to-work.
The coalition argues that under right-to-work, employees would earn less money, health insurance would cost more with weaker benefits and less money would be available to pay for pensions. It also argues that right-to-work would jeopardize a successful business model under which workers receive necessary training paid for privately to be prepared for the jobs they’re hired to do.
Proponents of right-to-work argue that it will make Wisconsin more economically competitive and that workers ought to have the freedom to decide whether to pay and join a union, rather than having dues automatically withdrawn.
Passing right-to-work is a priority for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the statewide chamber of commerce that represents 3,800 large and small manufacturers and companies, local chambers of commerce and specialized trade associations.Follow @sbauerAP