As the Wisconsin Assembly began debate on anti-worker legislation that would prohibit private-sector employees from being required to join a union or pay dues under union contracts, opponents of the so-called "right-to-work" bill protested at the Capitol building on Thursday, saying the measure is aimed at keeping wages low and dismantling the labor movement.
The session was expected to last up to 24 hours, as lawmakers on both sides of the issue voiced their positions on the American Legislative Exchange Council-inspired bill.
As debate continued during the afternoon, however, the public gallery was ultimately cleared of people following exclamations of protest against the bill from angry constituents. As the Capital Times reports:
Shortly after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, began speaking on behalf of the bill, protesters began shouting down at lawmakers, "Right-to-work is wrong for Wisconsin," among other chants.
A handful of individuals were removed before Capitol Police ultimately cleared the entire gallery, while protesters shouted, "Shame."
Subsequently, journalist John Nichols tweeted:
Pretty much sums things up: Assembly gallery is cleared so politicians can get to the work of disempowering citizens. pic.twitter.com/6H1c164Og5
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) March 5, 2015
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According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Vos said Thursday morning that, though some of his fellow GOP lawmakers would vote against the bill, it would "easily pass" in a house where 63 of the 99 members are Republican.
Anti-union Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican considering a run for president in 2016 and who recently compared protesters to ISIS, said Wednesday that he expected to sign the bill by Monday. If enacted, Wisconsin would become the 25th state with this sort of anti-worker law on the books.
"Right-to-work legislation would provide no discernible overall economic advantage to Wisconsin, but it does impose significant social and economic costs," wrote Marquette University economics professor Abdur Chowdhury in an analysis (pdf) prepared for the 440-member Wisconsin Contractor Coalition. "The benefits of right to work enjoyed by some prospective employers are overshadowed by the costs borne by other employers and the state as a whole...Citizens and potential investors in Wisconsin are all better served by economic development policies that lead to decent wages and working conditions."
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO calls the anti-worker bill and the political machinations surrounding it an "injustice to the people of Wisconsin."
"Right-to-Work is an attack on worker wages and the ability of workers to join together as a union to have a meaningful check on corporate power and greed," the statewide union declared at its blog.
WisconsinEye is providing live coverage of Assembly proceedings.