Working with a Republican-led legislature, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has had considerable success passing practically anything he's wanted, taking the Badger State in a far-right direction while Wisconsin Democrats have struggled to slow Republicans down. The courts, however, have posed a far greater obstacle for far-right shift.
Walker's voter-suppression tactics ran into some resistance in the courts, as did the governor's restrictions on reproductive rights. The latest hiccup came late Friday, when a Wisconsin court struck down Walker's anti-union "right-to-work" law, ruling that that the measure violates the state constitution. The Associated Press reported
Three unions filed the lawsuit last year shortly after Walker signed the bill into law. Right-to-work laws prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Twenty-five other states have such laws. The unions argued that Wisconsin's law was an unconstitutional seizure of union property since unions now must extend benefits to workers who don't pay dues. Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust agreed. He said the law amounts to the government taking union funds without compensation since under the law unions must represent people who don't pay dues. That presents an existential threat to unions, Foust wrote.
Not surprisingly, Walker, GOP state lawmakers, and Wisconsin's Republican state attorney general condemned the ruling, and vowed to appeal. Should the case reach the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as seems likely, the anti-labor forces will have reason for optimism: the governor has already helped move
the state high court to the right.
But in the meantime, it's a pretty significant setback for Walker's agenda.
Keep in mind, as we discussed
last year, the governor wasn't even supposed to pursue this as a policy priority. During his re-election bid in 2014, Walker vowed not to push the idea, specifically telling voters in October 2014, "We're not going to do anything with 'right-to-work.'" Six months later, signed an RTW bill into law, scrapping generations of state labor policy in the process.
Jared Bernstein had a good piece
at the time, unpacking what the policy is all about.
Let's be very clear about this: [Right to Work] does not confer some new right or privilege on those in states that adopt it. It takes away an existing right: the ability of unions to require the beneficiaries of union contracts to pay for their negotiation and enforcement. In anything, the law creates a right to freeload – to reap the significant benefits of union bargaining without paying for them. Let's also be clear about what goes on in non-RTW states, as anti-union forces consistently distort the current reality. In non-RTW states, no one has to join a union. There have been no "closed shops" in America for more than 20 years. When RTW advocates say they're fighting against "forced unionism," they are making stuff up. There's no such thing.
And what about the argument that "right-to-work" policies create a huge economic benefit to the states that adopt the idea? Brad Plumber dug into the available scholarship on the issue and found
, "There's a dizzying amount of research on the subject, but a few broad conclusions have emerged over the years: Right-to-work laws do weaken labor unions. The laws appear to tilt the balance of power so that workers reap fewer of the gains from growth. And it's still hard to find definitive evidence that right-to-work laws help (or harm) a state's overall economy."
It's enough to make one wonder if Walker and Republican legislators see this as an integral part of their economic platform, or if they're actually just trying to undermine unions as part of some kind of ideological crusade.