The Wisconsin State Senate passed Right to Work legislation late Wednesday night.
The legislature previously declared an extraordinary session, allowing them to bypass regular Senate rules and speed up the process. Republican senators introduced the legislation on Monday, held a public hearing on Tuesday, and took up the bill for debate on Wednesday, passing it the same day. The move sparked two days of protests at the State Capitol with thousands of labor union members and their supporters rallying against the bill.
The vote was 17 to 15, with all Democrats opposed and almost all Republicans in favor. One Republican senator, Jerry Petrowski of Marathon, broke party ranks and voted against it, explaining that he was a union member for many years and that “unions are formed by a majority vote and everyone gets to choose where they work”.
Democrats offered a series of amendments attempting to exempt the Green Bay Packers from the law, to raise the minimum wage, and to delay the start date of the bill. All were voted down on party-line votes, with all Republicans against. The NFL Players Association, which represents Packers football players, announced its opposition to the bill on Tuesday. The Major League Baseball Players Association, which represents Milwaukee Brewers players, also voiced opposition to the bill.
The legislation would allow employees of private companies to opt out of paying union dues as a condition of employment. It would not exempt unions from their legal responsibility to represent all workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, regardless of union membership or payment of dues. A Supreme Court ruling known as the Beck right already gives employees the right to opt out of paying any dues above and beyond the cost of negotiating and administering labor agreements.
The bill now advances to the State Assembly, which is likely to take up the bill early next week. Governor Walker has said that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.