Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Monday signed into law a measure that prohibits requiring a non-union worker to pay union dues, striking another blow against organized labor four years after the state effectively ended collective bargaining for public-sector employees.
Walker, a likely presidential candidate fresh off a weekend visit to Iowa, signed the right-to-work bill affecting private-sector workers at an invitation-only ceremony at Badger Meter north of Milwaukee. The company's president was one of the few business owners who publicly supported the measure, which rocketed through the Legislature in less than two weeks.
His sleeves rolled up and his suit jacket off, the Republican governor sat at a table with a banner that said "Freedom to Work" as he signed the bill that makes it a misdemeanor to require workers to pay unions dues.
Just before the signing, Walker said the new law "sends a powerful message across the country and around the world." He followed that up with a fundraising plea to supporters.
"The Big Government Labor Bosses will never forgive me for taking away their power but we are doing the right thing," Walker said in the email, noting that he had signed the law and asking for donations of $10, $100, and $1,000.
Supporters have argued the law will help keep and attract new businesses that were wary of spending in Wisconsin before. But opponents say it will drive down wages and make the workplace less safe.
"By signing Right to Work into law, Governor Walker continues his crusade on the hard-working, middle-class families of Wisconsin," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, in a prepared statement.
President Obama issued a statement late Monday that called on Walker to improve working conditions through actions such as raising wages or offering paid leave.
"I'm deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy," he said.
A coalition of more than 400 businesses formed to oppose the bill and upward of 3,000 union members and others gathered at the Capitol in Madison in a failed attempt to block its passage.
Walker was surrounded Monday by Republican lawmakers who shepherded the bill through the process, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Representatives from the state chamber of commerce, along with Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, were also on hand.
"This is one more big tool to help places like Badger Meter, when they can put jobs anywhere around the world, they can put them in Wisconsin," Walker said.
Badger Meter's chief executive and chairman Rich Meeusen said that because of the law, the company will place a $2.5 million piece of new water-control equipment at the Brown Deer facility and that will lead to 30 to 50 new manufacturing jobs in the state.
Walker left without taking questions.
The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state and the first to do it since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said the action now puts pressure on other Midwest states to follow suit.
"Every worker deserves freedom of choice when it comes to union membership and dues payment, and if states like Michigan and Wisconsin can pass Right to Work, then Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio can too," Mix said in a statement.
Walker signed the bill after spending the weekend in Iowa with other Republican presidential prospects at an agriculture summit. Walker heads to New Hampshire this on Saturday where he'll give the keynote speech at a state Republican Party event.