Why I Opposed Senate Bill 44

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Mar 4, 2015 No Comments ›› Admin

by Senator Kathleen Vinehout

March 4, 2015

Much has been said and written about Senate Bill 44 otherwise known as the Right to Work bill. I wanted to share my reason for opposing and voting against passage of this bill.

Senate Bill 44 changed the definition of a labor organization, required changes to union contracts, allowed employees in unionized shops to not pay dues for the benefits bargained for their benefit and eliminated decades of labor-management policy ascribed to by the state of Wisconsin. The bill does not allow any type of phase-in period for employers and employees to renegotiate the soon-to-be illegal contracts. The bill also created a penalty for failing to abide by the law of up to nine years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine – presumably for each violation of the law.

The bill was hastily drafted. It was introduced on Monday, February 23rd, had a hearing on Tuesday, February 24th and was on the floor for final passage in the Senate on Wednesday, February 25th. This type of speed and secrecy is done with a desire to avoid scrutiny and public involvement. We saw this when the Tuesday hearing was hastily shut down without taking testimony from hundreds of people who registered early in the day and sat through testimony of hours of ‘invited’ guests.

Many people contacted me about Senate Bill 44. Nearly 80% of those contacting me are opposed to the bill. Business and workers alike are happy with the labor management relationship they negotiated. For example, employers rely on unions for an estimated $30 million private investment in training facilities that would be lost if this bill becomes law.

Further, Senate Bill 44 would drive down wages in Wisconsin, not only for union workers but for many other employees. Numerous researchers studied RTW states and non-RTW states and found wages to be higher in states without RTW laws. For example, one study[1] found average hourly wages to be 16% higher in non-RTW states compared to states with RTW laws. Not surprisingly, the same study found union membership to be twice that in the non-RTW states.

Other researchers[2] demonstrated strong evidence that unions raise wages for less educated and blue collar workers. The effect of higher wages spills over into the non-union workforce, raising wages for non-union workers. The same study showed wages in non-RTW states affect workers across firms and across industries.

Low wages and wage inequality are huge problems in Wisconsin. The nonpartisan Taxpayers’ Alliance reported for years on the long-term decline of Wisconsin wages relative to the nation[3]. For example, the 258,776 workers in Wisconsin’s durable manufacturing industries already lag the national average by more than thirteen percent.[4]

It makes no sense to me that Wisconsin should pass any bill that would further depress wages. Not to mention the fact that RTW states also lag non-RTW states in the number of those with health insurance and pensions.

I enclosed two handouts I prepared for Senate floor distribution that further explain the problems with low wages in Wisconsin and one of the consequences of low wages: childhood poverty. I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to double the current amount of High Poverty Aid the state sends to schools. You will note on the handout that Trempealeau County is an example of an area with a rising poverty rate. Childhood poverty[5] in Arcadia in 2014 reached 60% of middle and primary grade children up from 39% in 2009[6]. You will recall Arcadia is the home of two large non-unionized factories.

I am also very concerned about the long-term consequences of eliminating decades of labor management policy followed in the state of Wisconsin. Senate Bill 44 went much further than a usual RTW bill by eliminating this policy. Section 111.01 Declaration of Policy (on labor management relations) was crafted after decades of management abuse and labor unrest. Specifically this policy discusses the three parties affected by labor management policies: the public, employees and employers. Senate Bill 44 called for removal of sentences such as:

Industrial peace, regular and adequate income for the employee and uninterrupted production of goods and services are promotive of all these interests…It is the policy of the state, in order to preserve and promote the interests of the public, the employee and the employer alike, to establish standards of fair conduct in employment relations and to provide a convenient, expeditious and impartial tribunal by which these interests many have their respective rights and obligations adjudicated. While limiting individual and group rights of aggression and defense, the state substitutes processes of justice for the more primitive methods of trial by combat.

As I said during the Senate debate, it is not in anyone’s interest to forego a process of justice and return to the “more primitive methods of trial by combat”. I can see no good reason Wisconsin would benefit from removing this language.

Senate Bill 44 passed the Senate on a 17-15 vote. This legislation will likely pass the full Assembly and the Governor indicated he will sign it into law when it reaches his desk.

[1] Gould, E. and H. Shierholz, “The Compensation Penalty of “Right to Work” Laws, Economic Policy Institute #299; February 2011, p. 3.

[2] For example see Western, B. and J. Rosenfield. “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality, American Sociological Review; 2011 76:513 p. 513-537.

[3] See Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, “Jobs the Long Road to Recovery, The Wisconsin Taxpayer October 2011 79:10 pp.4-5. And Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance “A Closer Look at Wisconsin’s Economy”, The Wisconsin Taxpayer September 2013 81:9 p.2.

[4] Using 2010 data as reported by Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, “Jobs the Long Road to Recovery, The Wisconsin Taxpayer October 2011 79:10 p.5.

[5] Using the federal definition of eligibility for Free and Reduced Lunch.

[6] Department of Public Instruction website. These statistics were recently brought to my attention by an Arcadia School Counselor who traveled to Madison to meet with me about the problem of rising childhood poverty.

Download PDF of Kathleen’s Letter

Download a scanned PDF of Kathleen’s floor handouts here


Voters for Vinehout

P.O. Box 1274
Eau Claire, WI 54702
608-287-9883
info@kathleenvinehout.org