Walker’s Nasty Right-to-Work Surprise

Putting aside your disagreements with the governor of Wisconsin and asking yourself about the man’s character, it’s important to fully digest the mendacity he once again showing by moving towards speedy enactment of a right-to-work statute he has said would not happen a hundred times. Dave Weigel is all over it:

The state’s labor unions are at Defcon 1, pondering the sort of mass protests that shut down Wisconsin’s Capitol four years ago. Their deja vu is boundless: Now, as in 2011, they’re trying to prevent Walker from doing something he gave voters no indication that he’d do. After he introduced a budget control act that ended collective bargaining for most Wisconsin public sector unions, Walker insisted that the electorate had given it the OK.

“The simple matter is I campaigned on this all throughout the election,” he said. “Anybody who says they are shocked on this has been asleep for the past two years.” As Dave Umhoefer reported, after a hard look at lots of campaign rhetoric, Walker had never promised to end collective bargaining. Labor groups, Democrats, and pundits like MSNBC host Ed Schultz banged on endlessly about this—for all the good it did them.

Walker’s relationship with right-to-work has followed the same pattern. In 1993, as a young state legislator, he introduced a right-to-work bill that never got anywhere. Walker’s star rose when he exited the legislature for Milwaukee County government, but he won his 2010 gubernatorial race without advocating right-to-work. The best indication that right-to-work was on his mind came in January 2011, when Republican donor Diane Hendricks buttonholed the new governor as a camera rolled.

“Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?” Hendricks asked Walker.

“Oh, yeah!” said Walker.

“And become right-to-work?” Hendricks asked. “What can we do to help you?”

“Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill,” said Walker. “The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

You may remember a video of that exchange getting out, with its (accurate) suggestion Walker was going after public-sector unions as the opening stage of a general anti-union offensive. But he kept stonewalling questions:

In two tough elections, his 2012 recall race and his 2014 campaign against Democrat Mary Burke, Walker was asked countless times if he’d sign a right-to-work bill. He always punted, insisting that he’d never get the chance….

Walker kept talking down the prospects of right-to-work; his tone, typically, was frustration with a media that kept obsessing over one hypothetical bill. “I just think there’s a lot of things that are going to keep the legislature preoccupied for a while,” he said in a Jan. 4 interview on Madison’s Capitol City Sunday. “Even though there’s a lot of buzz a few weeks ago, I don’t know that that’s the first thing they’re going to start out with.”

It wasn’t the very first bill to move, but as Weigel notes, “[I]t was close.”

To add a little more phony distance to the bill, Walker waited until he was out of town before he announced he’d sign it. I don’t know that Wisconsin has an e-signature law, but if it does, I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed Right-to-Work into law somewhere in Iowa.

Speaking of Iowa, Wisconsin will join that state as one of the few non-southern “blue states” with a Right-to-Work law. Another is Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative Republicans pulled a similar high-speed stunt after the 2012 elections. Another is Nevada. I won’t go into an elaborate explanation of RTW, other than to say it interferes with the right to contract by outlawing “union shop” employer-employee labor agreements and (because recognized collective bargaining agents have to negotiate for entire units) enables freeloading by people who don’t want to pay union dues but don’t mind accepting higher wages and benefits.

Back in the day Democrats used to talk often about repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which gives the states the option of passing RTW laws. Now Republicans talk often about repealing the state option and enacting a national RTW law. It’s another area in which conservatives have been winning long wars even if they lose the occasional battle, and the business (and political) interests who benefit from weakening unions will be grateful to Scott Walker for his devious, mendacious road to success in enacting this law.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.