The state Senate approved right-to-work legislation Wednesday night 17-15 as GOP Sen. Jerry Petrowski broke ranks to join Dems in opposing the bill.
The legislation next heads to the Assembly, which is expected to have a hearing early next week and will likely take up the bill March 5.
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, accused Republicans of rushing through the legislation to distract the public’s attention from the state’s $2.2 billion shortfall and the guv’s budget that proposes cutting $300 million from the UW System and borrowing $220 million to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, among other things.
He charged the legislation isn’t about worker freedom, saying no one can be forced to join a union now. Instead, he said it was about increasing corporate profits at the expense of middle-class families and said no one was demanding the change other than Republicans’s millionaire friends and donors.
“They are evaporating the middle class and no one in this room seems to care,” Hansen said.
Republicans largely declined to engage Dems as they lobbed various bombs at the bill, with only Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the bill’s author, rising occasionally to refute the claims. Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, accused Republicans of being no-shows and failing to explain their votes to the people of Wisconsin.
Still, during the debate over final passage Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said he wanted to interject to push back on the notion there’s no real public support for the bill.
He said right-to-work was a central issue in his fall campaign and noted his opponent was Randy Bryce, the first protester who was removed at the start of Wednesday’s debate. He heard about it while knocking on 21,000 doors and said former Racine County Exec Jim Ladwig has told him the Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce is preparing to publicly back the bill. Ladwig is now president of the organization.
“This is not just an issue that has fallen on deaf ears,” he said, adding lawmakers should back it because his constituents expect him to vote for it.
Throughout the course of the debate, Dems suggested GOP members had promised constituents, including labor unions, they would oppose right-to-work only to go back on their word because of pressure from leadership. They did not single out any senators by name in making the accusation, though Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said almost half a dozen GOP members didn’t want to support the bill but were going along anyway.
“What’s more important than your own integrity and your own freedom?” Taylor said.
Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, questioned why Republicans did not include police and firefighters in the legislation, suggesting it may have been favoritism or payback for past political support.
“If you believe in freedom for the rest of these individuals, you should believe in freedom for all of them,” he said.