New group with conservative ties forms to push for right-to-work law in Wisconsin

A new group launched Monday by a longtime conservative activist is pushing to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state where private-sector workers couldn't be required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.

Wisconsin Right to Work's creation comes a month after Gov. Scott Walker won a second term and Republicans, many of whom support right-to-work laws, increased their majority in the state Legislature.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who said in July he didn't intend to pursue the issue in 2015, issued a statement saying he looked forward to a "healthy discussion as the case is made for the benefits of being a right to work state."

Walker's signature legislative achievement was getting passed a law in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers and prohibited those workers from being forced to join a union or pay dues.

Walker has not proposed making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, and he largely dodged the issue during his re-election campaign. He said it was not a priority, would be a distraction and he would not push it next year. But Walker also stopped short of saying he would veto it should the Republican-controlled Legislature pass a bill.

"As he has said previously, Governor Walker's focus is on growing Wisconsin's economy and creating jobs," spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement that didn't directly address his position Monday. "Anything that distracts from that is not a priority for him."

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is open to making right-to-work legislation a priority, but needed to discuss it with Walker and legislative leaders to determine support, said his spokeswoman Myranda Tanck.

Those opposed to right-to-work laws said formation of the group showed that the issue is not going away, even though Walker and Republicans downplayed it during the recently completed campaign.

"The formation of this group is just another way for CEOs and multinational corporations to weaken unions and stack the deck even more in their favor, all at the expense of our middle class," Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said.

While Walker has indicated right-to-work was not a priority, "clearly the far right wing of his party has other ideas in mind," Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said. He added that passing such a law would make it more difficult for workers to earn a living wage and support their families.

Wisconsin Right to Work's leader Lorri Pickens promised to "aggressively promote" its right-to-work agenda. The news release announcing the group said its mission was to "advance freedom in the workforce by ensuring that all individuals, whether or not they choose to join a union, have the same benefits, rights and protections."

Pickens said in an email that she wasn't available to comment in more detail until Monday afternoon.

She has been a longtime player in conservative politics in Wisconsin, serving as state director for Americans for Prosperity, the main political advocacy group funded by conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

Pickens served as campaign manager of Vote Yes for Marriage, the group that supported a 2006 state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and also was as a lobbyist for Wisconsin Family Action in 2007, an anti-abortion group that also supported the ban.


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