Should Wisconsin be a 'right-to-work' state?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, Wisconsin Business Alliance Executive Director Lori Compas and conservative columnist David Blaska offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Right-to-work issue is a distraction from real priorities.

Scott Walker has called the “right-to-work” issue a distraction, and I agree. Lawmakers should focus on policies that will expand Wisconsin’s middle class, not shrink it.

First of all, let’s be clear about what the so-called right-to-work concept is and is not. It is not about rights or justice, and those who say it is are being disingenuous. Federal law already protects everyone from being forced to join a union or pay dues or fees to a group or cause they don’t want to support.

It’s actually a ploy to undermine unions and drive wages down. In right-to-work states, workers can benefit from collective bargaining even if they don’t pay their fair share of the expenses that unions incur while negotiating and administering contracts. Right-to-work proponents know their proposal will drive down union membership, which will lead in turn to decreased wages and benefits. They see this development as a good thing and claim that lower wages will lead to increased business activity.

But after decades of right-to-work in numerous states, most of them in the South, we’ve seen that this hypothesis is flawed. Union membership has a direct relationship to the middle class: As union membership increases, wages increase and the middle class expands. And as union membership has declined in recent decades, wages have declined in real terms and the middle class has shrunk. For those of us whose businesses rely on customers having money to spend, a growing middle class is a good thing.

At a time when Wisconsin faces a multibillion-dollar deficit and is still struggling to catch up to neighboring states and the rest of the country in job growth, Walker is correct in saying that the right-to-work debate is a distraction that we don’t need. Wisconsin businesses need a skilled and well-educated workforce, affordable broadband access, and a solid jobs strategy. Right-to-work advances none of these goals.

Lori Compas is a small business owner and the executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Business Alliance,



For a thriving economy, right-to-work is essential.

Reader Alert — Reader Alert: This opinion piece cites not a single economic study — not one! — because like Joel Stave’s passes, they’re all over the place. Will Wisconsin become the 25th state to guarantee an employee’s right to work without being compelled to join a labor union?

The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 gave states the discretion to enact right-to-work. Presidents from JFK and LBJ to Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have not seen fit to repeal — even when they had solid Democrat(ic) congressional majorities.

Right-wing talk radio wants it. The libertarians in the Tea Party cite the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of association. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce signed off on it, and it represents the state’s largest employers, many of which are already organized. The federal government itself is right-to-work.

Heck, Michigan is R-to-W. Michigan! Birthplace of the United Auto Workers! So who led the seven upper Midwest states in job growth in the last reported 2014 quarter? Michigan, followed by Indiana, followed by Iowa — all R-to-W, all led by Republican governors. Gallup says voters support R-to-W 71% to 22%.

Even so, blue-collar hero Scott Walker would rather not antagonize his natural constituency in unions like the Operating Engineers, who support iron mining in Iron County, or workers at the old-line Milwaukee factories frustrated with the Democrats’ fealty to welfare recipients, tenured college profs, and climate doomsayers. Key Republican legislators in the unionized Fox Valley may balk. Others are suffering from Act 10 battle fatigue.

Does it really matter? Labor unions were a great idea when coal miners were paid in scrip, but workers in Volkswagen’s Tennessee plant voted Union NO! Dane County’s biggest success story, Epic, is non-union. The growth industries of info tech and biotech? All non-union. Only 6.7% of America’s private-sector workforce is organized, down from 35% in Don Draper’s day. Employers know they don’t have to take a strike anymore. They move production to China. Ask Mary Burke.

David Blaska is a Madison columnist and In Business blogger. Find his blog at

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.