MADISON (WITI/AP) — A war of words at the Capitol as the battle over "Right-to-Work" legislation moves to the Wisconsin Assembly. Testimony began Monday morning, March 2nd at a public hearing after the measure rapidly passed the Senate last week.
The Assembly Labor Committee's hearing was set to last 10 hours, and the gallery in the hearing room was full when the meeting began Monday morning. Committee Chairman Andre Jacque (R-DePere), said people who were turned away from a Senate committee hearing last week would get to testify first.
Early speakers evenly represented views for and against the bill.
Madison activist Willie Wilson had one word to describe the bill.
"It's bull," Wilson said.
Wearing his military beret, he launched a war of words with lawmakers seated just five feet from him.
"I don't even see you as humans, because humans have a heart. I don't believe you sleep at night. You're vampires. You suck the blood out of working people to go and satisfy the people who finance your campaigns," Wilson said.
There was passion on the other side of the issue too.
"I'm not trying to push buttons. Over 95% of union dues go to Democratic Party," Kristi LaCroix said.
LaCroix, a teacher in Pleasant Prairie for 15 years argued for the bill, saying the union she was in took her dues but didn't represent her views.
"It is inexcusable that any American should have money taken out of their paycheck to be given to anything they don't agree with," LaCroix said.
The hearing took a comical turn when business owner James Murray appeared to be testifying in support of the bill, saying it would increase his business -- only to reveal he is a bankruptcy attorney.
"For the benefit of personal bankruptcy attorneys, I urge you to pass this bill," Murray said.
Colleen Klemp worked most of her life in union shops. She traveled from outside Oshkosh to Madison to testify.
"I've been here last week both days, Saturday, I'm here today. I have a great-granddaughter in 'Brownies.' Even she understands if she pays her dues, it makes the whole club better," Klemp said.
After public comment was cut short last week in the Senate because of disruptions, there were a few moments of drama before the Assembly committee Monday. When Madison resident Mary Jo Walters began yelling and clapping from the audience, she was escorted out by Capitol police. Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) told the crowd to instead wave their hands in the air to show support.
"Our goal is to have everyone heard here today who wants to be," Rep. Sinicki said.
With just four minutes allotted for each speaker, citizens made the most of every second despite the fact that their words likely won't be enough to stop Right-to-Work from passing a Republican-controlled Legislature.
There was no major union rally at the Capitol Monday, but about 50 union workers and other protesters gathered for the traditional sing-a-long.
Twenty-four other states have passed similar legislation to prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements requiring all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Supporters say workers should get to decide about joining. Opponents contend it'll reduce worker pay.
"This is going to give workers the right to choose. If they are in a union right now, they are going to have the ability to choose if they are in that union or not," Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said.
The bill would prevent private businesses from entering labor agreements with unions that force workers to pay union fees. The controversial legislation states "No person may require, as a condition or obtaining or continuing employment..." that a worker "pay any dues...to a labor organization." A violation, by businesses or unions, would carry criminal penalties of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) says Democrats will push to have the criminal penalties removed.
"At a minimum, I would hope they would allow the comments to inform their judgement. There are so many elements that at a minimum should changed," Rep. Barca said.
The full Assembly is expected to vote Thursday. Governor Walker has said he would sign Right-to-Work legislation if it makes its way to his desk.
- Contact your representative in the Wisconsin Assembly
- Explanation: What exactly is Right-to-Work legislation?
- “Right-to-Work” states map
- READ IT: Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce testimony on Right-to-Work
- “The political center of the universe:” What lies ahead for politics in Wisconsin in 2015?
- CLICK HERE for further Right-to-Work coverage via FOX6Now.com.