This week, a right to work (“RTW”) bill begins its path through the Wisconsin legislature. Expect a new law within a few weeks. If the RTW bill becomes law, Wisconsin will be the 25th state in the nation banning a worker from having to become a member of a union or pay union dues as conditions of employment. In the Midwest, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana are RTW states, and Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio are not. 

We’ll be sending updates on the Wisconsin RTW bill in the next few weeks as it moves through the legislative process.  For now, here are the highlights:

The bill would make it unlawful for an employer and a labor organization to require, within a labor agreement, that employees become or remain members of a labor organization as a condition of employment. Such a contract provision is common in non-RTW states and is often called a “union shop” clause or “union security” clause.

Additionally, the bill would make it unlawful for an employer and a labor organization to require that employees pay dues or assessments to the labor organization in order to be able to work. The bill would continue to allow individual employees who wish to pay union dues or assessments to have that money deducted from their paycheck. Labor organizations often bargain with employers to add a provision to the labor agreement that allows for payroll deduction for union dues or assessments. This provision is called a “dues deduction clause” or “dues check-off clause.” A negotiated dues deduction clause is still allowed under the bill, but individual consent is protected. The bill clarifies that the individual authorization must be in writing, signed, and allows that the employee can revoke the authorization with 30 days’ advance written notice to the employer.

The bill would be effective upon publication, which is anticipated to be within the next few weeks. If there is an existing labor agreement in place (and there are thousands across Wisconsin) then the ban on the union shop and dues payment as conditions of employment won’t be effective until that existing labor agreement expires.

The bill makes any violations of the new RTW law a Class A misdemeanor.

The bill is targeted to deal with limited subjects, namely whether an employee should have an individual right to decide whether or not to join a labor organization, or pay dues or assessments to a labor organization. The bill does not ban unions, collective bargaining, the right of individuals to form or refrain from joining a union, or apprentice or training programs in place with employer and union cooperation and support. The bill does not change the current law in Wisconsin that allows for employees to form a union if a majority votes for a union by secret ballot election. 

Expect the Senate to have a hearing, a floor debate, and vote this week. Expect the Assembly to do the same next week. And expect Governor Walker to sign the bill.