The Wisconsin State Senate passed so-called 'right-to-work' legislation late Wednesday night, against a backdrop of protests from those saying the bill represents pay cuts for working people and a direct attack on organized labor.
After nearly eight hours of debate, the bill passed the Senate 17 to 15, with all Democrats and one Republican voting against it. Onlookers in the Senate gallery shouted "Shame! Shame!" as legislators filed out after the vote.
The proposal would make it a crime punishable up to nine months in jail to require private-sector workers who aren't in a union to pay dues. The bill now goes to the State Assembly, where majority Republicans are expected to approve it next week. Anti-union Gov. Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, has said he would sign it if it reaches his desk.
"While Gov. Walker has left us unemployed and mired in billion of dollars in debt, he wants onerous new restrictions on workers while he enjoys the freedom to fly around the country campaigning for a new job instead of doing the one here he was elected to do," said Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. "That's worse than wrong. It's outrageous."
The Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based watchdog organization, has revealed that the state measure is taken verbatim from model legislation crafted by the right-wing, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
"With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind," Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said in a statement Wednesday. "Right-to-Work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity."
Rallies and demonstrations leading up to the vote drew thousands to the State Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel set the scene:
Wednesday's debate at times mirrored the raucous political discourse of 2011, though protests Tuesday and Wednesday brought far fewer people to the Capitol.
The session started in the early afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) saying he was advancing the measure to provide "true workplace freedom." Almost immediately, ironworker Randy Bryce shouted him down from the balcony above.
"This is an attack on democracy," said Bryce, who made an unsuccessful run for the Senate last year.
Intermittent disruptions occurred throughout the debate, with individuals standing up to decry the legislation before being led away by law enforcement, as Bryce was.
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The Wisconsin State Journal reported:
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, charged that right to work is the second half of Walker’s "divide and conquer" strategy to "cripple" labor unions — the first part being Act 10 in 2011 which stripped collective bargaining rights from most public workers.
Democrats repeatedly accused Republicans of "ramming through" the measure, introduced Friday, that would prohibit workers from being required to financially support any labor organization.
They noted that 1,751 people submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at Tuesday’s public hearing, with just 25 in favor.
Opponents of right-to-work legislation say such proposals depress wages and weaken union power.
"All of organized labor is under a full-scale attack, and this will end up being one of the darkest chapters in organized labor's history if Wisconsin becomes the 25th state to succumb to the right to work for less law," said Machinists Union official Phil Gruber at a rally before the vote on Wednesday. "Their goal, the ultimate goal, is to eliminate your voice—and that's bullshit."
Watch Gruber's full speech here:
"I'm inspired by the outpouring of union people and non-union people who care about good wages and worker rights," said Wisconsin AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale in a post from the Senate gallery right after the bill passed. "There is a longer fight out there for working people—I'm not giving up and I know you aren't either."
Keep up with continuing developments—including news of a potential rally on Saturday—under the hashtag #wiunion: