A right-to-work bill recently passed the State Assembly in Wisconsin with voting along party lines and has been signed by Governor Scott Walker.
The bill, which affords workers the ability to not pay dues to a union that bargains collectively on their behalf, is indicative of a movement making its way across the nation. Right-to-work once only saw action in the South and West, but has recently seen a surge within Midwestern states that typically favor unions, such as Indiana and Michigan, both of which passed right-to-work laws in 2012.
Federal law requires labor unions to represent all workers within a unit whether they belong to the union or not.
"This is all about Scott Walker's presidential run – he's trying to wear this credential for conservatives," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO. "The upside of this right-to-work fight is we've seen a lot of solidarity. When you look at all the labor protests over the last two weeks, this just might build stronger unions, and it might blow up in their faces."
While Republicans and business lobbyists feel the bill is needed in Wisconsin to show that businesses are welcome by arguing that workers should be able to decide on their own whether to spend money on union dues, Democrats and union leaders contend that the bill does not do as much to attract businesses as supporters would have people believe. Some believe they try to lure businesses by lowering wages and making unions weaker, reports Steven Greenhouse for The Guardian. They also suggest that the measure would pit workers against their bosses and against each other, thereby "destroying labor peace" in the state.
The popularity of the bill across the nation reflects a decrease in union membership, which has fallen to 11%. The private sector has seen the largest decrease so far, down to 6.6% from its high point of 40% in the 1950s. As membership declines, unions become less able to defend their practice of asking for dues in order to increase wages, causing the right-to-work idea to become more popular, writes Brian Mahoney for Politico.
"This freedom-to-work legislation will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union, and employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin. Thanks to the members of the Legislature for their work on this bill, and I look forward to signing it into law on Monday," Walker said.
Wisconsin is now the 25th state in the nation to have right-to-work legislation.