On March 9, 2015, Wisconsin became the 25th state to enact Right to Work legislation with Governor Scott Walker signing Senate Bill No. 44 into law. 

Wisconsin's Right to Work law "prohibits a person from requiring, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to refrain or resign from membership in a labor organization, to become or remain a member of a labor organization, to pay dues or other charges to a labor organization, or to pay any other person an amount that is in place of dues or charges required of members of a labor organization."

Key Provisions of the Wisconsin Right to Work Law

  • The law does not impact existing Collective Bargaining Agreements ("CBAs") unless and until they are renewed, modified or extended on or after March 11, 2015.
  • The law applies to all labor organizations, which are defined as "any employee organization in which employees participate and that exists for the purpose, in whole or in part, of engaging in collective bargaining with any employer concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, hours, benefits, or other terms or conditions of employment."
  • When applicable to the employer, an employee cannot be required, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, to:
    • Refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with or voluntary financial support of a labor organization;
    • Become or remain a part of a labor organization;
    • Pay any dues, fees, assessments or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value, to a labor organization; or
    • Pay to any third party an amount that is in place of, equivalent to or any portion of dues, fees, assessments or other charges or expenses required of members of, or employees represented by, a labor organization.
  • An employer will not be permitted to deduct union dues from an employee's earnings unless that employee has presented the employer with a personally signed order, even if there is an all-union agreement in effect.
  • An employer will not need to give the labor organization notice if an employee has decided to terminate the deduction of labor organization dues or assessments from his or her earnings.

Key Points for Wisconsin Employers

  • This law does not apply to current CBAs until they expire or are subject to modification.  Therefore, existing union security clauses and dues check-off provisions are not immediately unlawful.
  • Employees may have to follow union bylaws in order to resign from the union (e.g., provide advance notice, be current on dues and assessments, etc.).
  • Be wary of union negotiation proposals that would allow reversion to Union Security or reopen the CBA if there is a change in the Right to Work law in the future.
  • Managers and supervisors should be educated about the implications of Right to Work.  However, communication with employees about the new law should be carefully crafted.  All employers remain subject to the National Labor Relations Act such that all employees continue to have the right to organize and participate in concerted activity.  

Although the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO and two other unions filed suit on March 10 challenging the new law, it took effect on March 11, 2015.  The complaint charges that the law "deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide."  The unions are asking that the law immediately be blocked, first through a temporary restraining order and then a permanent injunction.  A hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Thursday, March 19, before Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust.   Legal challenges to similar laws elsewhere in the country, including Indiana, have failed.  The complaint can be reviewed here.