MADISON, Wis. – For the second time in less than a week, union opponents outnumbered supporters Monday at a public hearing on a bill to make Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state — a proposal that's moving on a fast track through the Republican-controlled Legislature.
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The Assembly Labor Committee, six days after the Senate Labor Committee held a similar hearing, planned to take testimony into the night Monday on the bill that would ban any requirement that non-union members in the private sector pay union dues. Union members, many of whom testified last week, packed an overflowing hearing room waiting for their chance to speak. People who were unable to testify at least week's Senate hearing before it was cut off were allowed to go first.
Opponents outnumbered supporters 70-1 at last week's Senate hearing and the majority of those speaking Monday were also against the measure.
Union members and other opponents reiterated their arguments that the measure would weaken unions, leading to lower wages and unsafe workplaces. They also questioned who really wanted the law, given that coalitions representing hundreds of contractors and other businesses had formed in opposition, and said it was wrong to rush the bill through in less than two weeks.
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Supporters, including the state chamber of commerce, said they represented many other people who were reluctant to speak publicly. Backers argue that the change will make Wisconsin more competitive with other states, in particular Indiana and Michigan, and allow workers the freedom to decide whether they want to pay union dues rather than have them deducted automatically.
WHAT THEY SAY:
Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said businesses are pushing for the bill because it will send a message that the state has a more favorable climate for development.
Kristi LaCroix, a former teacher from Kenosha, said she belonged to a teachers' union but was disappointed to learn a portion of her dues went to support political action committees and the Democratic Party. LaCroix and others who testified in favor of the measure said workers should have the option to pay dues, rather than being required to do so.
John Drew, a Union Auto Workers representative from Milwaukee, said approving the bill would allow non-union employees to become freeloaders, as they would receive union benefits without paying dues.
"It's like saying if you don't like the Republicans controlling Wisconsin, you shouldn't have to pay taxes," Drew said.
Randy Bryce, a former Democratic state Senate candidate and member of the Ironworkers Local 8 union who was removed from the Senate gallery last week for yelling during debate, called the bill a "blatant political attack" and government intrusion into private business.
Madison bankruptcy attorney James Murray sarcastically testified in favor of the bill, saying it would "send a clear message that Wisconsin is open for bankruptcy."
The full Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans 63-36, was expected to debate the measure Thursday. The bill passed the Senate on a 17-15 vote last week. Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, has said he will sign it into law by the end of the week. The bill would take effect immediately.
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