MADISON — A newly formed coalition of more than 300 construction-related private businesses in Wisconsin announced Wednesday that it will work to defeat a right-to-work proposal being discussed by Republican leaders in the Legislature.
Formation of the group comes as talks proceed behind the scenes among Republicans who control the Legislature about the timing of a right-to-work bill and what form it may take.
Gov. Scott Walker repeated his message on Wednesday, during a brief speech to Republican state senators in the Capitol, that he sees right-to-work as a distraction from his agenda. He told lawmakers he wants them focused on his legislative agenda, but he also didn't promise to veto a right-to-work bill should it pass.
The coalition does not list any unions among its members, even though they are the strongest opponents of the right-to-work laws that prohibit workers from being required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.
Steve Lyons, spokesman for the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition, said that new members were constantly being added to the group and that no one was being included or excluded. He was vague about how it's being funded and who's leading the effort, saying that it was a grass-roots movement with members voluntarily contributing as much as they want to pay for it.
Lyons said leaders of the coalition and a board of directors would be announced in coming weeks.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said earlier this month he wants the Senate to act quickly on the measure early in the session that begins in January. Fitzgerald also threw out the possibility that some trade unions would be exempt from the law. Lyons said the coalition opposes right-to-work in all forms.
Lyons said the coalition agreed with Walker that right-to-work was a distraction and that businesses believe it's a government intrusion in their private operations. Lyons argued that under right-to-work, employees would earn less money, health insurance would cost more with weaker benefits and less money would be available to pay for pensions.
Lyons also said right-to-work would jeopardize a successful business model under which workers receive necessary training paid for privately to be prepared for the jobs they're hired to do.
Proponents of right-to-work argue that it will make Wisconsin more economically competitive and that workers ought to have the freedom to decide whether to pay and join a union, rather than having dues automatically withdrawn.
Passing right-to-work is a priority for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the statewide chamber of commerce that represents 3,800 large and small manufacturers and companies, local chambers of commerce and specialized trade associations.
A group advocating for right-to-work, formed by a longtime conservative activist, has been running radio ads statewide in support of the law, saying it would be good for Wisconsin's economy. The new coalition opposing it will likely launch an advertising campaign of its own, Lyons said.
However, don't look for the coalition to organize large protests outside the Capitol like those seen four years ago during the debate over public union rights, he said. The coalition instead is focused on talking with policy-makers, Lyons said.