My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go.
Coming to a state near you
Right-to-work bill has economics, morality on its side
It has been a topic of conversation in Wisconsin’s conservative circles for several years. The discussions turned more intense and more frequent after the passage of Act 10. Will Wisconsin pass right-to-work legislation? It appears that the answer may soon be yes.
Throughout the last election, Wisconsin’s Republican leaders consistently spurned the notion that right-to-work would be advanced in this session of the Legislature despite the strong support by the Republican base. While Democrats accused those leaders of being disingenuous, they were sincere. Gov. Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald all wanted to avoid another Act 10 firestorm that would distract them from their other priorities.
T hen something happened. Conservative Republicans who showed up at the polls to elect the most conservative Legislature in Wisconsin’s history and re-elect Walker had their own priorities. They want right-to-work in Wisconsin and let their representatives know that they were expected to pass it.
Conservative activists began pushing and elected Republicans began to talk openly about right-to-work. Then the dam broke when Rep. Chris Kapenga, one of the most conservative members of the Assembly, said that he would introduce right-to-work whether the leadership wanted it or not.
Fitzgerald was the first leader to break and said that he would allow a vote on right-towork legislation early in the session before the budget debate begins. Vos continues to say that it is not a priority and Walker said that it would be a distraction. Whether the Republican leaders like it or not, right-towork legislation is coming and they are going to be in a position of letting it pass or enraging their base. It would be ideal if they would lead the charge on the conservative agenda, but if they do not want to be leaders on this issue, they need to stand aside and let others get this done.
Since Wisconsin is about to be engulfed in ludicrous anti-right-to-work rhetoric, let us remember what right-to-work is and what it is not. Right-to-work is simply a law that says that people do not have to be in a union, or pay union dues, as a condition of employment. This is in contrast to what Wisconsin has now where people who want to work for companies with a unionized workforce are compelled by law to pay union dues. Workers can choose to not be a member of the union, but they still have to pay for it.
That is all right-to-work does. Right-towork does not forbid unions. People are still free to form unions and pay dues if they choose. It would only affect the 12.3 percent of workers in the private economy that still remain unionized.
There are two reasons conservatives support right-to-work. The first is a moral one. It is immoral for the government to force people to pay for an organization with which they might disagree. Period. We should not use the coercive power granted to government to compel people to pay for a church, business, charity, advocacy group, union or anything else just because they are employed.
The first reason for right-to-work is reason enough, but there is also a compelling economic justification to support it. Twenty-four states already have right-to-work. Statistically, these states enjoy a higher standard of living with people having more after-tax income and greater purchasing power, more robust economic growth and lower unemployment. It is also true that many of these states also have a litany of other pro-employment policies like lower taxes and sensible regulations, but right-to-work is part of the pro-business framework that promotes economic growth.
As Wisconsin’s Republicans work on making Wisconsin the 25th state with right-towork, they need to heed Kelly Johnson’s principle to “keep it simple stupid.”
There is already talk of exempting some unions or some industries from a right-towork law. This would surely invite legal challenges, serve to make both supporters and detractors of right-to-work very angry, and justifiably open up Republicans to criticism of political favoritism.
The Legislature just needs to keep it simple and pass right-to-work the same way 24 other states have already done. Then they can get back to the Republican leadership’s other priorities.
(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)