Wisconsin Very Likely to Become the Nation’s 25th Right to Work State

On February 23, 2015, Senate Bill 44 (bill) was introduced which, if passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Walker, would make Wisconsin a right to work state. Following a full-day Senate hearing on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, SB 44 was passed by the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform. An identical companion bill, Assembly Bill 61, was introduced the same day, which may further speed passage of the legislation by allowing the debate to proceed in both chambers. Here are some details on the bill:

  • This bill 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.
  • Any person who violates this prohibition is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

The bill must pass both the State Senate and Assembly before moving on to the Governor’s office. Once passed, the bill passed by the legislature will placed on the Governor’s desk. Upon signing, Governor Walker will identify the bill as 2015 Wisconsin Act 1, the first act signed in the new legislative term. 2015 Wisconsin Act 1 will be published in the Wisconsin State Journal the following day. The day following publication, Wisconsin’s right to work law will go into effect making Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right to work state.

There are several important points for unionized employers to consider regarding the bill and the timing of its passage including:

  • The right to work law will not impact current collective bargaining agreements and existing dues check-off provisions. It will first apply to collective bargaining agreements that have provisions inconsistent with the bill “upon the renewal, modification, or extension of the agreement occurring on or after the effective date of this subsection.”
  • By contrast, collective bargaining agreements that have not been ratified by the union membership on or after the date the bill goes into effect will be impacted. Accordingly, companies with open or expired collective bargaining agreements can expect pressure from their union partners to move quickly toward passage in order to preserve the unions’ existing right to collect union dues for the next contract term.
  • In addition, any mid-term contract modifications will also eliminate a union’s ability to collect union dues. Companies that have historically found their union willing to reopen the contract to address an issue requiring change, such as a change in insurance coverage, can expect resistance in attempting to re-open the agreement because doing so would negatively affect the union’s ability to collect union dues from their members.
  • It is important to note that the bill does not prohibit companies from deducting and collecting union dues from an employee’s earnings if the employee provides the company with a written, signed order authorizing such deduction. Further, the order signed by the employee must also provide that the employee may terminate the order by giving the employer 30 days’ written notice to the employer of his or her desire to terminate.
  • Employees who ultimately exercise their right to resign from the union and stop paying dues will still be covered by the collective bargaining agreement. Further, the union will still continue to owe them a duty of fair representation including the potential obligation to pursue a grievance on their behalf.

For continuous updates as the right to work legislation progresses, and updates on other legislation affecting the workplace and labor and employment-related topics, follow Daniel Finerty on Twitter: @DanielFinerty.

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