Bill To End Forced Unionization Moves Through Wisconsin Legislature
The Wisconsin Assembly began debating on whether to end mandatory union membership Monday by hearing testimony from labor experts and the public.
The policy, which has passed in 24 states, outlaws forced union dues as a condition of employment. After a state version of the policy passed the Wisconsin Senate on Thursday it was sent to the Assembly, where representatives began the first day of discussions with testimony from labor experts, union leaders and the public.
“Currently in Wisconsin, if a close shop exists and an employee refuses to pay their dues, they can lose their job,” Rep. Chris Kapenga noted at the beginning of the hearing. “This bill changes that.”
Jerry Miller, a union member for Caterpillar in southeast Wisconsin, argues it will hurt workers and negatively impact the relationship workers, employers and unions have with one another.
“We have a strong relationship with the company,” Miller notes. “We create a better relationship, better wages and better communities.”
“I don’t always like where my taxes go to,” Miller continued. “But it’s my American duty to pay my property taxes.”
Additionally, opponents at the hearing argued that right-to-work creates a free rider problem because unions have to represent everyone in a workforce, even those that don’t pay dues.
“No other organization is required to represent people that don’t pay dues,” John Crew of the United Auto Workers argued. “I understand that this is an attack on unions but at least get your facts straight.”
Those in favor of the bill, however, argue it is the choice of a union of whether to represent everyone.
“The problem of free riders comes from the union’s decision to be the exclusive representatives,” State Rep. Dan Knodl noted.
James Sherk, a senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, furthered the point by detailing the difference between exclusive representation and member only labor agreements.
“Federal law does not require a union to act as an exclusive representative,” Sherk argues. “The choice of whether to be an exclusive representative or member only remains with the union.”
When a union decides to be an exclusive representative in a company, they must represent all workers. However, they can choice to be a members-only union, which only requires them to represent dues-paying members.
Labor supporters have countered the idea by noting that member-only unions don’t provide them enough bargaining power, but as Sherk argues, if a union is able to get the majority of a workforce to join then they should have no problem putting pressure on a company to bargain.
Sherk also argues there is little evidence unions help workers get higher wages. Sherk claims that when standard of living is adjusted for, there is no difference between average pay in right-to-work states and mandatory union states.
Throughout the hearing, a major argument presented against the bill was that is interferes with private contracts entered into by employers, employees and their unions. As Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, argued, the bill is nothing more than the government getting in the way of private contracts.
But proponents of the bill have challenged the idea by noting the bill doesn’t actually prevent those things. As Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald argued last week, the bill does not affect current contracts and will not ban companies or workers from freely joining a union.
The free-market Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found in a recent poll of Wisconsin citizens that the state overwhelmingly approves of right to work policy. The poll found 62 percent would vote in favor of such a law, 32 percent against, and 6 percent unsure.
The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill later this week. If the bill passes, it will move on to Gov. Scott Walker to be signed. Fitzgerald is confident they have enough votes in both chambers to pass the bill.
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