On Monday, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker signed a “right-to-work” bill. This decision makes Wisconsin the third Midwest state to do so since 2010, after Indiana and Michigan, and the 25th overall in the United States.
The law, which specifies that workers cannot be forced by labor unions to pay them any fees, is part of a series of actions taken by Republicans in the Midwest in the past few years. Their designed purpose is to empower both workers and employers, but is thought to have the opposite effect on unions, labor leaders say. Governor Walker assessed that his piece of legislation “will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union and employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin.”
The signing of the bill is thought to be part of the larger Republican plan for the 2016 presidential elections, at least according to Democrat Michael Sargeant. He and other Democrats claim the decision has little to do with strengthening the economy and is more about electoral success in the upcoming vote. Traditionally, labor groups have been loyal Democratic supporters and have crucially influenced the results in the swing states. By striking right at their source of income, the Republicans are aiming to minimize financial support the unions will be able to provide to Democrats.
Nonetheless, Governor Scott Walker is trying to boost his own credibility as a potential Republican runner in 2016 and has been advertising the bill before Friday in private messages sent to donors. One such email states: “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.”
Across the nation, many labor unions have been weakened since the November 2011 elections, which gave more seats to the Republicans in state legislatures. In Wisconsin’s case, there hasn’t been a Republican in charge since 1929, and many workers thought a “right-to-work” bill could never be passed. So, Walker’s initiative is seen as inspiring by many, especially among Republican supporters, of course. Victor Joecks of the Nevada Policy Research Institute described the measures as “better for the state, and the taxpayers appreciate it.”
The importance of the unions for the Democratic political effort was made clear on Monday, when President Obama released a statement on the issue. The anti-labor laws passed by Republican governors in Wisconsin and other states was met with discontent from the White House. Obama suggested that “a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government” was taking place, asserting that the “new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy.” The President linked the growth of the middle-class with a strong, established labor union movement, claiming the politically motivated new laws will have a negative impact on the economy.
Image Source: The Boston Globe