On March 9, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill making his state the 25th right-to-work state.
“This legislation puts power back into the hands of Wisconsin workers, by allowing the freedom to choose whether they want to join a union and pay union dues,” said Walker.
In the last three years, three industrial states in the Midwest have passed right-to-work laws, which used to be so strongly and loudly denounced by labor unions.
Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin followed Texas in 1993 and Oklahoma in 2001.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2013, these right-to-work states gained jobs at more than twice the rate of other states.
When Wisconsin Gov. Walker was a member of that state’s Legislature in 1993, he proposed a right-to-work law. But then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, wanted nothing to do with it.
In Indiana, Republican Mitch Daniels refused to support right-to-work legislation, but when GOP majorities finally passed a right-to-work bill, Daniels signed it into law. And he made the following memorable statement:
“Seven years of evidence and experience ultimately demonstrated that Indiana did need a right-to-work law to capture jobs for which, despite our highly rated business climate, were not currently being considered.”
In Michigan, the Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2010 denounced RTW laws as “too divisive,” and the state’s labor unions introduced a ballot initiative to put collective bargaining into the state constitution.
Michigan’s voters – including nearly one-quarter of the state’s Democrats – voted this down. This in the home state of such memorable labor leaders as Jimmy Hoffa and Walter Reuther.
In 2013, Indiana and Michigan both benefited from more growth than Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute’s survey reported that 62 percent of Wisconsin’s residents supported right-to-work. So, in February, when a right-to-work bill was passed by the Legislature, Walker signed it.
In New Mexico, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez endorsed right-to-work. The House of Representatives passed it – but it died in the Democrat-dominated state Senate.
A similar bill also passed in Missouri’s House – but Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon has promised a veto.
With competition from now right-to-work states Indiana and Michigan, Ohio may become another state to pass RTW – particularly due to large GOP majorities in its Legislature.
Despite this, Republican Gov. John Kasich in February declared:
“It’s not on my agenda. Right now in our state we have labor peace.”
But RTW activists observe that this is precisely how Daniels, Snyder and Walker once spoke about the issue.
How much has changed since 2011 is seen in the vivid remembrance of what happened just four years ago.
Scott Fitzgerald, majority leader of Wisconsin’s Senate, recalls:
“We hoped that trade unions would sit on the sidelines.”
Just the opposite happened.
Tens of thousands of protesters came to Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison.
They occupied the state Capitol and camped out on the Capitol grounds.
In order to deny a quorum to GOP lawmakers, Democratic senators fled the state.
Despite all of this political clamor, Gov. Walker and his allies prevailed in the following year – as well as a re-election last November.
There has, it must be remembered, been talk of the much-embattled Gov. Walker as a possible presidential nominee.
If that – as well as his being elected to the nation’s highest office – both take place, the percentage of RTW states may very well climb substantially.
Media wishing to interview Les Kinsolving, please contact [email protected].