Right-to-work laws are an extremely contentious issue in American politics. Twenty-four out of 50 states in the United States, as well as Guam, have right-to-work provisions in their constitutions. Right-to-work laws are defined as, “state laws that prohibit both the closed and union shop. A right to work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.”
One state that is surprisingly absent from that list is Wisconsin — a state in which fights between unions and the government have been rampant. Republican Governor Scott Walker proposed and signed into law Act 10, known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. This law, passed in March of 2011, allowed for collective bargaining only on wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation. It also eliminated collective bargaining power on workplace safety, vacation time, health benefits, among others.
As a result of this legislation, more than 100,000 teachers, students, union members, and citizens alike protested this wildly unfair piece of legislation. While the protests dwindled down to a small fraction of their original size, the movement to recall Walker remained, and in June of 2012, Walker narrowly defeated Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, in his recall election.
In September of 2012, a judge struck down much of Act 10, ruling that the law violates the state and the Constitution. After having his landmark piece of legislation overturned, Walker proclaimed that, “Sadly, a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backward and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the Legislature and the governor.”
With his largely anti-union stance, it is odd to see him not press for right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin. When asked about it in mid-December, right at the peak of the protests in Michigan surrounding their right-to-work legislation, Walker stated that it would be “too huge a distraction from the priorities I’ve set.”
This is a rare display of intelligence from Walker, as he does not need another media circus surrounding the state and has already stirred up enough anti-union sentiment. The numbers show that all workers, union and non-union in right-to-work states make 3% less in wages, and receive 5% less from their retirement plans. According to the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws lower wages for both union and nonunion workers by an average of $1,500 per year.
So thank you, Scott Walker, for not joining the parade of anti-worker fools marching to the drum of right-to-work proponents. For the foreseeable future, Wisconsin will be a state devoid of these counterproductive laws.