There are no plans to force a right-to-work bill through the state Legislature, Republican leaders said Friday, a day after a video was released that showed Gov. Scott Walker discussing his strategy for weakening unions.
Democrats have long feared Walker harbors a secret desire to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state, where workers would be allowed to avoid joining a union or paying dues even if they are covered by a union contract. The governor, who pushed through legislation that all but ended the collective bargaining powers of public employees, has denied any interest in such a wholesale attack on unions and did so again on Friday.
But even if Walker did, GOP lawmakers said Friday there are not enough votes in the Legislature to pass such a measure. "I just don't see the momentum for that kind of bill," said Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. "It just wouldn't pass."
The issue popped back up this week after a documentary filmmaker released video from January 2011 of Walker discussing a "divide and conquer" strategy toward unions, and the state budget.
Walker made his comments to Beloit-based billionaire Diane Hendricks — who has since given his campaign more than $500,000 — at a meeting of a Rock County economic development group about a month before he unveiled his collective bargaining proposal.
The governor has repeatedly said the controversial measure, which triggered massive protests at the state Capitol, was not about going after unions but rather a necessary tool to help balance state and local budgets.
But in the video, part of a documentary about Janesville's attempts to recover from the closing of its massive General Motors plant, Hendricks asks Walker whether they can make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions and become a right-to-work (state)?"
Walker replied: "Well, we're going to start in a couple of weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer."
The film, "As Goes Janesville," is expected to premiere this summer. Filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein has worked for Democratic campaigns and has donated to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker's opponent in the June 5 recall election, the first of a governor in Wisconsin history.
Walker co-sponsored failed right-to-work legislation as a freshman in the state Assembly in 1993, but spokesman Cullen Werwie has repeatedly said the governor has "no plans for right-to-work."
Walker's campaign released a similar statement on Friday when asked about the video.
"Gov. Walker has made clear repeatedly that he does not have an interest in pushing right-to-work legislation," said campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews.
Walker himself went a step further later Friday, saying he has worked well with private-sector unions and he won't let any right-to-work bill pass.
But according to state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chairman of the Legislature's powerful budget committee, there are no plans to make another run at passing right-to-work legislation in the next session.
"This is not on anyone's radar," Vos said. "I can't see any right-to-work bills coming to the floor in the foreseeable future."
Vos, who many believe will be the next Assembly speaker, has authored right-to-work legislation in the past and still supports "the concept."
"But I think the reforms we have put in place are working, so I am not sure if I would favor another attempt at that or not," he said.
Said Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend: "No way. No chance. A few people have brought it up and been quickly shot down."
Barrett, meanwhile, seized on the video, saying it shows Walker's words cannot be trusted.
"Scott Walker has plunged our state into political turmoil with his 'divide and conquer' style of governing, and Wisconsin is tired of it," Barrett said. "More alarming is how Walker says in public what he thinks the people want to hear, but then reveals his true colors to the conservative billionaires bankrolling his campaign."
Documentary film footage released late Thursday shows Gov. Scott Walker shortly in January 2011, shortly after his election, describing a "divide and conquer" strategy for taking on unions by first going after public employees' collective bargaining rights.
The video, captured by documentary filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein, shows Walker speaking with Diane Hendricks, billionaire co-founder of ABC Supply, a wholesale distributor of roofing, siding and windows, at the company's Beloit headquarters.
Lichetenstein was at ABC to document a meeting of the economic development group Rock County 5.0 for his forthcoming documentary on Janesville's attempts to recover from the closing of its General Motors plant. Hendricks co-chairs Rock County 5.0 along with Mary Willmer-Sheedy, a community bank president for M&I Bank who also is in the video.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was provided with video beyond the 29-second clip released to the public (go.madison.com/divideconquer). Here is a transcript of the conversation, which took place in ABC's foyer just before Hendricks escorted Walker into the meeting:
Hendricks: Can we talk just for two seconds before we get up there?
Walker: Yeah, yeah, that's fine.
Hendricks: ... some issues we're just going to avoid a little bit. And by the way, this is Brad and he is part of Rock County 5.0 and he has been filming everything.
Lichtenstein: I've been doing a documentary ...
Walker: Oh, cool.
Hendricks: ... so what we're going to do and talk about right now is just concerns that Mary (Willmer-Sheedy) and I have that we probably, are a little controversial to bring up upstairs. OK? I don't want to — because there's press up there.
Walker: OK, sure.
Lichtenstein: Just so you know, nothing I do is going to see the light of day for over another year.
Walker: OK, that's fine.
Hendricks: So we'll just take five minutes. You know, they don't know. Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions ...
Walker: Oh, yeah.
Hendricks: ... and become a right-to-work (state)? What can we do to help you?
Walker: Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer. So for us the base we've got for that is the fact that we've got — budgetarily we can't afford not to. If we have collective bargaining agreements in place, there's no way not only the state but local governments can balance things out. So you think city of Beloit, city of Janesville, any of the school districts, that opens the door once we do that. That's your bigger problem right there.
Hendricks: Which state would you mirror? Is there any state that's already ...
Walker: Well, (Indiana Gov.) Mitch Daniels, did — now, see the beautiful thing is, he did it in Indiana, he had it by executive order that created the unions years ago, and so when he came in about a week after he eliminated through executive order. In Wisconsin, it's by the statute. So I need lawmakers to vote on it. But the key is by tying it to the budget, there's no way to unravel that. Because unless they're going to come up with $800 million for example — it's not exactly that amount, but it's close — there's no way they cannot pass that unless they're going to pass a tax increase ...
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