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Wisconsin gets ready for right-to-work clash

TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

Madison, Wis. – — Wisconsin union leaders may not get much help from judges if they file a legal challenge to Republicans' right-to-work provisions, as courts have done little to weaken similar measures in other states.

The proposal, which prohibits unions from reaching deals with businesses that require workers to pay fees to the unions as a condition of employment, is on a fast track for approval in the Republican-controlled Legislature, with Gov. Scott Walker promising to sign it. That leaves the courts as a last-ditch option for unions and other opponents.

But legal challenges to recently enacted right-to-work laws in Indiana and Michigan have lost in both state and federal courts. The Wisconsin proposal — which is up for a public hearing Tuesday — closely mirrors laws in those states, making a successful lawsuit here unlikely, said Paul Secunda, a law professor who coordinates Marquette University's labor and employment law program.

In fact, no one has ever successfully won a legal challenge against right-to-work, Secunda said.

"These laws have existed for over 60 years," he said Monday. "You can file all the lawsuits you want but the presumption is going to be that the law is going to be good."

Twenty-four states already have right-to-work laws. Supporters see them as a way to help the economy, spur business and give workers the freedom to choose whether they want to pay union dues. Opponents, including public and private-sector unions, say the laws are just another way for Republicans to weaken unions that favor Democrats and help businesses reduce salary and benefit expenses.

For organized labor in Wisconsin, the new bill marks the second blow of a one-two punch that began with Walker's plan to strip nearly all public workers of their union rights. Republicans passed that measure in 2011 despite massive, round-the-clock demonstrations at the Capitol that attracted tens of thousands of people and went on for weeks. The protests and an ensuing recall attempt helped Walker become a national conservative star who is now likely to run for president.

Union leaders planned rallies Tuesday and Wednesday at the Capitol to protest the right-to-work bill. It's unclear how large these protests might be, but Secunda said he doesn't expect the same energy demonstrators displayed during the public union restriction protests. Only 11.7 percent of Wisconsin workers belonged to unions last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A nationwide Gallup poll done in August showed 71 percent of respondents said they would vote for a right-to-work bill; 22 percent said they would not.