The fast-track on Wisconsin’s right-to-work bill appears to be nearing its end, as the Assembly voted 62-35 Friday morning to adopt the measure after 24 hours of debate.
The legislation now moves to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk for signature, the last stop the bill will make before becoming law.
Just minutes after debate on the bill kicked off Thursday afternoon onlookers in the gallery erupted in protest. Union members stood up, chanting "right-to-work is wrong for Wisconsin," as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, ordered the gallery be cleared.
Once order was restored, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, criticized the bill as "disturbing" and encouraged Republicans to be open to the amendments Democrats proposed.
"I hope you all keep an open mind and try and make this bill better," Barca said. "Better for the businesses who have testified and for the workers who have pleaded with you ... That’s what this is about."
Republicans quickly defended the bill, which would prohibit making union membership a condition of employment, as a means of increasing economic prosperity and individual freedom.
"It is the freedom of the individual that is most important," state Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said. "Do we want to be Cuba? Do we want to be Russia? Let the individual workers choose [whether to join a union]."
Barca moved late Thursday night to send the bill to the Assembly Committee on Small Business Development, a motion that occupied debate for the next ten hours and which Democrats later removed Friday.
The body didn’t address any of ten amendments introduced by Democrats until roughly 7:00 a.m. Friday morning. All of the amendments, which included provisions to phase out the bill if certain conditions were not met and delay the date it would take effect, were tabled.
Vos criticized the minority party for what he called “delaying tactics.”
“We were anxious to debate the merits of the bill … but instead we had 18 hours of debate on referral,” Vos said. “The people of Wisconsin should be disapointed in the delaying tactics.”
In remarks shortly before the bills’ passage, Rep. Andy Jorgenson, D-Fort Atkinson, defended the debate as a response to the fast tracking strategy of Republicans and decried the bill.
“If you’re going to change the face of our state you don’t do that at breakneck speed,” Jorgenson said. “The blood is on your hands.”
Protesters again joined Democrats in speaking out against the bill, but fewer protesters rallied Thursday than last week during debate in the state Senate. The crowd of roughly 300 who turned Thursday out made their presence known, however, as their chants of "let us in" and "this is what democracy looks like" could be heard even inside the Assembly chamber.
Scott Bartz, a business agent who represents Madison area sheet metal workers, came out to protest despite acknowledging the bill will likely pass.
"I know it’s a done deal but I just want to let them know that we’re still here and going to be here," Bartz said. "Unions are why everybody has what they have—weekends, vacations, sick days—all that stuff is because of unions. This bill is turning back time."
The fate of the bill now rests in Walker’s hands, and the governor has said he will sign the bill, potentially as soon as Monday.
Anne Schoenfeldt contributed to this report