Reformers working on amendment to protect right to work law



(The Center Square) – The right to work law could be the next issue headed for voters and perhaps the Wisconsin Constitution.

The Institute for Reforming Government is working on a constitutional amendment that would ensure Gov. Tony Evers or the new liberal-majority Supreme Court could not roll back the state’s 2015 law that stopped unions from requiring membership.

“Lawmakers need to enshrine worker freedom in the state constitution,” Chris Reader, executive vice president of the group, told The Center Square. “To not act could allow union bosses to once again force workers to join unions and pay fees and dues against their will if their lawsuit is successful

Wisconsin became the 25th state in the nation to ban mandatory union membership when former Gov. Scott Walker signed the law.

But it has remained unpopular with Democrats and labor unions.

There has been a resurgence in talk about possibly repealing the law after Judge Janet Protasiewicz tipped the state Supreme Court to a 4-3 liberal majority in August.

Reader said nothing has changed about the law or about the argument against the law. He said the only thing that has changed is the makeup of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“The state statute has already been ruled constitutional – yet the unions are relying on the same failed legal argument, hoping that the new court majority will rule differently,” Reader said. “We can’t go back to a time when union bosses, and politicians they elect, decide worker benefits for public workers. Worker freedom is imperative to keep that from happening.”

The law was the second major change that impacted unions in Wisconsin. It came after Wisconsin’s Act 10, which changed how public sector unions could negotiate their contracts and prevented them from requiring membership.

Since 2011 when Act 10 became law, union membership dropped from 17.8% in 2000 to 7.9% in 2021, according to federal numbers.

Reader said that can’t be blamed all on Act 10 and the right to work law. He said Wisconsin’s economy was transitioning even before the Walker-era reforms.

“When given the choice, workers left the unions that weren’t providing value,” Reader said. “Even before Act 10 and right to work. Wisconsin has gone from union membership of over 20% in the 1980s and ’90s, to 15% before Act 10 and right to work, and now it’s down to 8%. If given a choice, workers want to look out for their own interests, not rely on union bosses.”

In March, Michigan repealed its right to work law through the new majority Democratic legislature.

Republican lawmakers have proposed a series of constitutional amendments that cover everything from requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes to a constitutional ban on outside money for elections.

Republican lawmakers say using the constitutional amendments takes their issues directly to voters and avoids a veto or a court challenge.

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