by Tammy Binford
Wisconsin is on its way to becoming a right-to-work state. A right-to-work bill passed the state senate on February 25 and is expected to pass the assembly after that body takes it up on March 5. Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill as soon as it passes.
The bill will likely have a negative impact on private-sector union interests in the state. In 2011, Walker eliminated the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, which resulted in large protests lasting several months in the capitol. The present measure has had little resistance, probably as a result of the timing and the inevitability that right to work will become law.
Saul C. Glazer, an attorney with Axley Brynelson, LLP in Madison, Wisconsin, says the impact of right-to-work legislation on employers “should be negligible” because of the state’s current adherence to prevailing wage law.
“The majority of union labor in Wisconsin is in the construction trades and health care,” Glazer said. “On public construction projects, Wisconsin still employs prevailing wage, which puts union and nonunion labor on a level playing field. So long as prevailing wage remains in effect, there probably will not be a major impact because of the right-to-work law. If prevailing wage is removed, the impact of right to work may be more profound.” Right-to-work legislation may have more of an immediate impact on healthcare workers, who may choose not to pay union dues.
Glazer pointed out that Iowa, a neighboring state, has been a right-to-work state since 1947, and Michigan and Indiana also are right-to-work states. “Given the demographics of Wisconsin, it is difficult to predict whether right to work will have a positive impact as it has had on southern states, with respect to automobile manufacturing,” he said. “Wisconsin may gain some competitive advantage over Minnesota and Illinois in terms of drawing in new employers, but most new business is nonunion anyway.”
The bill would allow private-sector workers who don’t join a union to avoid paying what is known as “fair share” payments assessed on workers who are deemed to benefit from union contracts despite their nonunion status. Opponents of the bill call it an attempt to decrease union membership.