MADISON (WITI/AP) — The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has planned rallies Tuesday and Wednesday (February 24th and 25th) in Madison to protest a bill that would make Wisconsin a "Right-to-Work" state. This could bring scenes reminiscent of the 2011 protests over Act 10 back to the Capitol.
On Friday, Governor Scott Walker backed a surprise move by Republican legislators to quickly vote on the bill, an action the likely 2016 presidential candidate initially said should be delayed to avoid re-igniting massive pro-union protests.
"On Monday Morning at 9:00 a.m. a ballot will be introduced for an extraordinary session to introduce Right-to-Work legislation," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said.
Sen. Fitzgerald is leading the push for Right-to-Work legislation in Wisconsin -- launching another labor fight that could bring protests like what we saw regarding Act 10.
"As we stand here today, nobody's got a real good guesstimate on what could happen in the building during the public hearing. We're trying to prepare for that. I just have my fingers crossed that this isn't going to turn into something similar to Act 10. The Governor is supportive. I think he believes that there is potential that this could turn into something that could be disruptive," Fitzgerald said.
Walker rose to prominence in 2011, when he pushed through Act 10 -- a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. That led to protests with as many as 100,000 people and a 2012 recall election that Walker won.
There's one big difference this time around. Now, Republicans in the Senate have an expanded majority. The prolonged standoff that occurred when Democrats left the state to prevent a vote is not in play this time.
The Right-to-Work bill would make it a crime for businesses and labor unions to force employees to pay union dues -- essentially weakening unions in private businesses, like manufacturers.
"When Scott Walker fought for Act 10, that was about a very narrow topic. That was about public labor unions. In other words, the right to unionize within government. Now what we're talking about is unions in the private sector," UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee said.
Lee says beyond the stated objective of creating a better business climate, Republicans have another agenda.
"What we're seeing is the dismantling of the Democratic coalition in Wisconsin politics," Lee said.
Sen. Fitzgerald says he wants to avoid the chaos of four years ago, but union leaders and other progressive activists are planning rallies around the state, and in Madison on Tuesday and Wednesday -- when the Senate plans to debate and eventually pass the bill.
"We haven't seen the bill yet. They haven't introduced it, even though they're calling for passing it next week in the state Senate. Now how outrageous is that? Here we go again -- back to polarizing the people of this state. It's clearly part of a far right wing agenda to try to make sure that we diminish the middle class even further," Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said.
"My experience as leader is when you have the votes, you go to the floor. You don`t wait around," Sen. Fitzgerald said.
Right-to-Work laws are in place in 24 other states.
The Senate and Assembly will hold an "extraordinary session" to pass the legislation this week in the Senate and next week in the Assembly.
Walker has said he would sign the bill if it came to his desk.
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