- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Friday there will be enough votes to pass a right-to-work bill in Wisconsin this session after the GOP majority grows to 19 following the April election to fill a vacant seat.

Right-to-work laws, in place in 24 other states, prohibit private-sector employers from requiring workers to pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment. In an interview with WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, Fitzgerald said lawmakers “were coming around,” on the issue.

“They’re starting to understand the ins and outs,” he said.

Supporters of such laws say it’s about worker freedom and employees should not be forced to join a union, particularly if they don’t agree with its politics or feel the cost isn’t worth the benefit. Opponents say requiring union membership ensure workers are paid well and have job protections negotiated by unions.

The issue pits Republicans against unions, contractors and Democrats in a debate that would likely resemble the fight four years ago over public worker collective-bargaining rights that led to Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election. Walker, who is mulling a 2016 presidential bid, has said he supports a right-to-work law but that debating it now - while he’s pushing his own legislative priorities - would be a distraction.

But earlier this week Walker said his support for right-to-work has not wavered, noting that he co-sponsored a bill to do that when he was in the state Assembly.

Fitzgerald had been calling for swift action, but backed off last week after saying support in the Senate was unclear.

Republicans currently hold an 18-14 majority in the Senate. That will grow to 19-14 after the April 7 election, when a vacant seat is filled. Three Republicans and no Democrats are running in the race.

Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said after the interview that Fitzgerald does not have a current vote count. Fitzgerald said during the interview that he believes he will have the 17 votes he needs to pass the bill by the end of the session.

Fitzgerald also said it would be better for the Legislature to take up the right-to-work legislation at the same time it considers eliminating the state’s prevailing wage law as ways to help plug a hole in the state’s transportation budget. Fitzgerald said there’s also strong support to repeal that 2009 law, which requires certain wages be paid on government projects.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports right-to-work and has said the bill would start in the Senate. No bill has been introduced yet.

Members of the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition, which formed to oppose right-to-work efforts and has about 350 construction-related businesses on board, are lobbying lawmakers on the issue, said the group’s spokesman Steve Lyons.

“We are hopeful as state senators continue to hear from local job creators, that they will understand the negative impact of right to work,” Lyons said. The group also opposes repealing the prevailing wage law.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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