Workers gather outside the State Capitol building in Madison
By Brendan O'Brien
MADISON, Wis. (Reuters) - Wisconsin lawmakers on Monday opened a final push toward adopting a measure supported by Republican Governor Scott Walker to bar private-sector workers from being required to join a union or pay dues when working under union-negotiated contracts.
The measure, which would make Wisconsin the 25th state to enact a "right-to-work" law, is expected to pass the Republican-led state Assembly as soon as Thursday and then be signed into law shortly after by Walker, a Republican presidential hopeful.
Supporters cast the measure as an incentive for keeping and attracting businesses and jobs, while opponents call the bill a thinly disguised assault on organized labor.
"Unions argue that they benefit ordinary Americans, but in economic terms, unions (operate) as a labor cartel," said James Sherk, a Heritage Foundation policy analyst, who testified in support of the right-to-work law at a committee hearing on Monday.
The state Assembly's labor committee is expected to hear about 10 hours of testimony on Monday. The full Assembly, where Republicans hold a 63-36 majority, is expected to vote Thursday on the legislation.
Walker became a hero to Republican Party conservatives in 2011 when he pushed for a law to limit the collective bargaining rights of public-sector employees. His political stature grew when he survived a union-backed recall election in 2012.
Will Williams, 71, a lifelong union member from DeForest, Wisconsin, testified against the bill and its supporters.
"I don't see how even you can sleep at night and I don't believe you do. You're vampires," Williams told the committee. "You suck the blood out of working people to go and satisfy the people that give you the money for your campaigns."
Thousands of workers rallied at the Capitol Building last week to protest the legislation, which was advanced in the state Senate by a vote of 17 Republicans for and 14 Democrats and one Republican opposed.
The bill would prohibit private-sector workers from being required to join and financially support a union - such as by paying dues - as a condition of their employment.
Under such "open shop" scenarios, employees subject to the wages and benefits of a collective bargaining agreement are nevertheless free to eschew membership in the union that negotiated the contract on their behalf.
As written, the law would take effect upon Walker's signature.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Steve Gorman, Eric Walsh and Eric Beech)