Scott Walker right to resist "distraction"

Mar 02, 2015

Republican state lawmakers should listen to their governor and drop plans for "right-to-work" legislation.

Don't repeat Wisconsin's tumultuous past.

Gov. Scott Walker just urged the Legislature not to take up a bill placing restrictions on private-sector unions similar to those that Act 10 applied to public-sector unions in 2011.

"The right-to-work legislation right now, as well as reopening Act 10 to make any other adjustments, would be a distraction from the work that we are trying to do," Walker said.

He's right. Wisconsin should focus instead on improving our schools and economy, fixing a state budget deficit and building more cooperation and trust.

Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, wants to keep fighting, even though his side already won. Kapenga said Tuesday he plans to introduce a right-to-work bill next year. It would prevent private-sector workers from being forced to join a union or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

That might sound reasonable. But to the private-sector unions that have been losing power and leverage for decades, the measure represents a threat to their existence — especially if higher hurdles to certify unions are included, similar to those in Act 10.

Only 13 percent of wage and salary workers in our state are represented by unions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the economy is improving. So the argument for further restrictions is weak.

When the governor and Legislature adopted Act 10, strictly limiting collective bargaining for most public workers, the economy was still climbing out of the worst recession in a generation. Republicans could point to union excess in government. Public-sector unions were strongly influencing the election of public officials who then negotiated union contracts.

That doesn't happen in the private sector. Private unions can't spend money to try to elect union-friendly business owners or executives. The bargaining table truly has two independent sides.

During his first term, the governor often blamed the massive 2011 protests over Act 10 at the state Capitol for slowing job growth in Wisconsin. He had a point, though he was the guy who triggered the outcry.

Act 10 gave school, state and municipal leaders more power over hiring and spending decisions affecting taxpayers and public services, which was good. But the hard-fought changes came with a price.

Images of tens of thousands of people surrounding and eventually filling the statehouse for weeks were broadcast across the country and around the world. Senate Democrats fled the state to try to stop a vote, drawing more negative attention.

The drawn-out and polarizing debate caused uncertainty for business owners and investors. It advertised Wisconsin as a chaotic place — just the opposite message economic boosters had long tried to cultivate.

Act 10 also took its toll on communities, pitting public workers against other citizens and deepening the partisan divide.

Republican who run the Capitol should resist Kapenga's bill. This isn't the time or place for more labor strife.


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