MADISON, Wis. (Reuters) - Wisconsin’s majority-Republican legislature will this week take up a right-to-work bill that is expected to spark union protests in Madison, after two legislative committees on Monday approved plans to convene an extraordinary session.
The Senate and Assembly organization committees voted along party lines to start the session on Tuesday with a hearing on the proposed right-to-work bill in the Senate labor committee, followed by a full Senate discussion on Wednesday.
“I believe the right-to-work issue is about workplace freedom. Workers should have the freedom to choose whether or not it is in their family’s best interest to join a union,” said Republican Representative Tyler August in a statement.
The proposed bill would prohibit workers from being required to join and financially support a union - such as by paying dues - as a condition of their employment.
Democrats and unions sharply oppose right-to-work legislation in Wisconsin, where Republican lawmakers in 2011 approved restrictions on collective bargaining for most public-sector unions except police and fire amid large demonstrations.
“Not only will this bill lower family wages across our state and interfere with private business contracts but it could leave taxpayers with an even larger budget hole to fill,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said on Monday.
The adoption of a right-to-work law would decrease state revenue through lower wages, Shilling said.
A crowd of about 200 people and union members on Monday evening huddled in frigid temperatures in a downtown Milwaukee park where they called the right-to-work legislation an assault on the working class.
“We are going up against a beast...its whole purpose is to demean our unions,” said Gerry Miller, a welder and member of the United Auto Workers.
Unions also plan to hold a rally at the state capitol building on Tuesday to coincide with the Senate committee public hearing.
“If right-to-work was any good for this state, we wouldn’t see it being... passed this quickly in an attempt to circumvent democracy,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin AFL-CIO president.
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald expects the Republican-dominated Senate to approve the legislation by the end of the week and the Assembly to take up the bill the week of March 2.
Governor Scott Walker, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, supports the policy and will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk, a spokeswoman said on Friday.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Madison,; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Lambert