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This week, the Wisconsin legislature begins the fast-track process to pass "right-to-work" – or, as I call it, "right-to-freeload." They are doing this in a so-called "extraordinary session" of the legislature.
While "extraordinary session" may well be a technical term related to the rules under which the session will operate, we all know what "extraordinary" means and, historically, such sessions have been used to address major or important or emergency issues. The overall impression, then, is that our representatives are undertaking this session to ward off imminent disaster or something equally serious.
But "right-to-work"? I do not follow how that qualifies as any kind of extraordinary circumstance, and why the normal legislative process is not sufficient.
This bill makes compulsory union membership a crime, meaning jail time and fines for violating it. The number of workers in Wisconsin this affects is remarkably small: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2014, there was a total union membership in Wisconsin of only about 300,000 people, or just 11.7% of the workforce.
This is barely above the national average (11.3%) and far below Midwestern peer states like Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. (It is slightly higher than Iowa and Indiana.) There is no sense that Wisconsin's union membership is "extraordinary" or hurting this state more than it hurts the country or our neighbors.
Wisconsin's public-sector workers, for the most part, are already covered by an anti-union regulation, part of the infamous Act 10. The public-sector who weren't covered by Act 10, police and firefighters, would also be exempt from this bill. So the total number of workers in private-sector unions -- the ones who would be covered by this legislation -- is somewhere closer 170,000, or less than 7% of all Wisconsin workers. That's hardly of a scale to be called "extraordinary."
Are those workers clamoring to be set free of the shackles of their unions? Are Wisconsinites of all stripes lobbying for the state to do something to release those poor souls from the unimaginable hellscape that must be their awful, union-bound lives?
Actually, no. The group "We Are Wisconsin" polled Wisconsin residents in December of last year, after GOP leaders promised quick action on the bill, and the poll, released last week, shows that "right-to-work" is literally the last priority of Wisconsin voters, far behind education, the economy, infrastructure investments, and better access to health care. Clearly, the people of Wisconsin don't think the issue requires any "extraordinary" measures.
OK, so maybe the people of Wisconsin don't care about the issue and it doesn't affect very many state workers. What about businesses? Well, the state's pro-Republican business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, are in favor. But I spent the weekend scouring the ends of the internet for a single specific company saying they'd move to or expand in Wisconsin if the bill passes.
I found none (if I missed one, please leave a talkback or comment below), but I did find that construction contractors across the state have banded together to oppose the bill. Further, PolitiFact Wisconsin recently fact-checked WMC's claim that companies are more likely to relocate to "right-to-work" states, and found it only "half-true." Only 15% of WMC's own members though that the law was a top priority.
In fact, the data show the so-called "right-to-work" states don't do better in job creation than the rest of the states, once you account for the booming energy sector in the northern Plains states and Texas. Urban Milwaukee's Bruce Thompson ran the numbers comparing Wisconsin's job growth to that of Indiana and Michigan, our neighbors who recently passed "right-to-work," and found almost no discernible difference. Indeed, we were all beat – as was the U.S. as a whole – by the decidedly pro-union Minnesota.
Besides, if we really cared what businesses thought about policy decisions, we wouldn't be dragging our feet on the Milwaukee Streetcar (pause for laughter).
According to Marquette University economist Abdur Chowdhury, overall lower wages in "right-to-work" states depress demand and decrease tax revenues, too.
Still, if there is one truly "extraordinary" thing happening in this state right now, it's that the country as a whole has grown out of the Great Recession and states everywhere are enjoying solid revenue and recovery, but we are not. I cannot imagine what is driving the push for something that not only is distinctly not extraordinary, but could well actively hurt the state.
That's not true; I can imagine it. It's a partisan knee-capping of political and ideological opponents in service of higher corporate profits. It is "extraordinary" that such a crass motivation takes priority for Wisconsin's Republican Party at the expense of average workers.