In 2015, then-Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a so-called “Right-to-Work” bill. The legislation, which undercut private sector unions, came four years after the Walker administration launched an opening salvo with Act Ten — which hamstrung Wisconsin’s public sector unions.
Now, Wisconsin’s labor activists have a path to repealing some Walker-era labor policies.
The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, is currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate after passing the House of Representatives last month. The PRO Act would, among other things, invalidate right-to-work laws in more than two dozen states — including Wisconsin.
Robert Kraig, the Executive Director of Citizen Action Wisconsin, said at a press conference outside the state capitol today that, while the bill wouldn’t invalidate Act Ten, it’s an important starting point for labor reform.
“It would eliminate Right-to-Work, which means that all workers who had a union would pay the fair cost of representation,” Kraig told reporters. “It does not actually deal with public sector employees, there’s another bill being worked on being introduced soon that would do that.”
Under Right-to-Work, workers are allowed to opt out of union membership, and dues, in union-represented companies. Critics argue that the policy allows those employees to benefit from the union’s work without shouldering any responsibility.
The PRO Act would also prevent captive-audience meetings — wherein employees are forced to sit through anti-union seminars on company time — and create financial penalties for companies who violate workers’ rights.
State Representative Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) is currently floating a joint resolution supporting the PRO act in the Wisconsin State Legislature, alongside Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers) and Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville). Sinicki says the Act will help return Wisconsin to its pro-Labor, progressive roots.
“We were the first state to allow collective bargaining for public employees,” Sinicki said today. “Just a few blocks from where I grew up was one of the bloodiest, deadliest labor strikes — the Bayview Tragedy. It’s time that we as Wisconsinites go back to our progressive roots. It’s time that we remember that this state and this nation was built on the backs of labor.”
Bill Franks is the Labor & Industry Committee Chair for Dane County’s branch of the NAACP. He says the PRO Act has a racial justice aspect as well — as right-to-work legislation has its roots in racism and anti-semitism.
Said Franks: “The PRO Act is more than labor and law reform, it is Civil Rights legislation. A union contract is the single best tool we have to close racial and gender wage gaps and ensure dignity for workers regardless of where they were born, who they are and what industry they work in.”
The PRO Act faces an uncertain future. It passed the U.S. House on a 225-206 vote last month and it has the support of President Joe Biden. But the U.S. Senate has given it a lukewarm reception.
Politico reports that the bill currently has 47 Senate cosponsors, 45 Democrats and two independents, placing it short of the 60 votes necessary to survive a filibuster. Three Democratic Senators — Arizona’s Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and Virginia’s Mark Warner — have yet to sign on to the bill.
Even if they do, Democrats will have to woo at least ten Republicans for the bill to have any chance of passing. Despite its three Republican co-sponsors in the House, no Senate Republicans have come forward to back the legislation.
(PHOTO: WORT News)