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Mar
2015
11

Major Newspapers, Obama Slam Walker’s “Right-to-Work” Signing as Political; GOP Sets Sights on Further Dismantling Construction Worker Protections

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As anyone following the labor movement or the race for the GOP presidential nomination knows, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed “Right-to-Work” legislation on Monday.  Wisconsin became the 25th state in the country to enact such a measure. Calling the legislation “Freedom to Work,”  Walker justified the middle class bashing by claiming it would help persuade businesses to relocate to Wisconsin. 

But with the bulk of his reforms delivering no results as of yet (even the Walker-loving Chamber of Commerce ranks the state horribly in terms of performance), it is difficult to believe anything he says. The New York Times notes that Walker’s actions seem politically motivated. Almost instantly, he began using “Right-to-Work” to help fundraise for his presidential campaign.  In a fundraising email, Walker’s backers wrote:

“…the attacks from the Big Government Labor Bosses and National Democrats will be worse than ever and your Friends of Scott Walker contribution of $10 or $100 or $1,000 or whatever amount is right for you couldn’t come at a better time than now.  

You know how it is: It threatens the power the Big Government Labor Bosses crave and they are going to come after him with everything they’ve got.”

Democrats were quick to highlight the political nature of “Right-to-Work,” explaining for the umpteenth time that a policy which unfairly punishes and disempowers the labor organizations that fight for rights, pay, and standards cannot possibly provide an economic boost.  As Michael Sargeant, Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said: “It’s designed to depress wages and to help them win elections in the future.  That’s what this is about.”

“Governor Walker’s political stock amongst the campaign-funding elite may be rising,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, “but it is the people of Wisconsin who are paying the price of his unchecked political ambition.”

The Los Angeles Times, too, wondered aloud if “Right-to-Work” had presidential aspirations written all over it. They point to Walker previously saying “Right-to-Work” would be a distraction.  They quote a pre-presidential run Walker:

“It’s not going to get to my desk,” Walker said then of “right to work” legislation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it isn’t there because my focal point [is] private sector unions have overwhelmingly come to the table to be my partner in economic development.”

Their explanation of what brought about the change? The 2016 presidential campaign.

President Obama swiftly condemned Walker in an atypical move that reveals just how egregious the bill is. He urged pro-worker legislation to counter “Right-to-Work’s” negative effects:

I’m deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy. Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past. So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans – by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave. That’s how you give hardworking middle-class families a fair shot in the new economy – not by stripping their rights in the workplace, but by offering them all the tools they need to get ahead.

For the citizens of Wisconsin, one thing should be clear: there is no more Governor Walker, there is only candidate Walker.

Newly emboldened, the “Right-to-Work” pony show will move to new theaters.  New Mexico, Maine, and West Virginia are feeling the pressure to act from out-of-state lobbyists who are invading their turf and flooding their political system with dark money.

Following Monday’s “Right-to-Work” news, Wisconsin Republicans made clear that the middle class target practice would continue in the form of prevailing wage reform.  Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Journal-Sentinel that they want to raise the thresholds at which the prevailing wage kicks in, meaning fewer projects will be subject to this important worker protection. They are putting the pedal to the metal in what labor leaders refer to as “the race to the bottom.”

These legislators are not acting in a rogue manner. They are not outliers. This is the party line and Walker is complicit in its promotion:

Walker’s budget includes significant changes to how Wisconsin’s workers compensation system works. The move would reportedly restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes, and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development. The new system would be co-run by two other agencies. It’s unclear what should motivate a revamp of the state’s system, which is both low-cost and known for producing swift, positive outcomes for workers and employers.

Wisconsin Republicans, it seems, want to create an economically crippled superpower, cobbling together the most flawed ideas they can find. As one state Democrat told the Wisconsin State Journal,

…the proposed changes “are based on practices in Florida, whose system has been found to be unconstitutional; Illinois, where litigation rates are high; and Texas, which is getting rid of its worker’s compensation system.”

Wisconsin Republicans have also gone on record saying they will target Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), the construction contracts that ensure female, veteran, minority and local hiring as well as safety and training standards. As of last year, 21 states had banned PLAs. They include many of the states with the worst economies in the nation, including Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Kansas, and Arkansas.

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