Wisconsin group forms to push for right-to-work law

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Associated Press
December 1, 2014

MADISON—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.

Walker’s signature legislative achievement was passing a law in 2011, known as Act 10, that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers and prohibited 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, saying it was not a priority.

But Wisconsin Right to Work’s leader Lorri Pickens promised Monday 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.

Those opposed to right-to-work laws said formation of the group showed that the issue is not going away.

“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.

Walker said during his re-election campaign that right-to-work legislation would be a distraction, was not a priority of his and he would not push it next year. But he 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. “Anything that distracts from that is not a priority for him.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports right-to-work laws, but also has sidestepped the issue in recent months. In July, after the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Act 10, Vos said he didn’t intend to pursue right-to-work legislation next year.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said he had nothing new to say on the issue Monday. Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said he was open to making right-to-work legislation a priority, but needed to discuss it with Walker and legislative leaders to determine support.

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