Wisconsin's Republican-controlled (barely) Senate approved a right-to-work law yesterday, sending it to the state's also-Republican-controlled Assembly. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, possible candidate for president (or at least getting enough buzz to be asked what he thinks of evolution and President Barack Obama's commitment to Christ), has promised to sign it into law if it passes.
Wisconsin would be the 25th state to have a law forbidding businesses from requiring workers join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Passage would also burnish Walker's reputation as the politician who takes on unions and wins, having survived both a recall effort and re-election after reducing the power of public sector employee unions to engage in collective bargaining and requiring them to pay more into their pensions and health plans.
We are in the stage of presidential primary pre-candidacy where a media reference to a statement or action of a potential candidate is obligated to include a baseless assertion that it may affect his or her potential campaign in some fashion. Certainly, Walker's history of taking on the unions will serve him well in the presidential primaries, especially compared to somebody like Gov. Chris Christie. I'm reluctant, however, to speculate that political or public attitudes toward unions are going to play a major or even minor role in a national election with so much else going on. More likely his battle with the unions will be spun on the right as a fight to contain wasteful government spending and on the left as an attack on the middle class. The actual details of collective bargaining and right-to-work laws will not matter. That's my guess. Once you start delving deeply into wonky capital city subjects like public employee pensions and union power on a regular basis, it becomes harder and harder to evaluate how much the issues impact the average voter's choices. (Having said that: Check out our recent poll results on how Americans view the public employee pension crisis!)
Walker is currently a top dog in a poll of likely Iowa caucus voters, which means absolutely nothing at all and everybody knows it, and everybody knows that everybody knows it, but yet here we are. Walker will be speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this evening.
For some different perspectives on "right-to-work" laws, read Shikha Dalmia's defense of such laws as libertarian here, while Jerry Tuccille argues they're actually just another example of the government inserting itself into the marketplace here.