Big Business, Koch Groups Back Anti-Labor Bill

January 26, 2017

Unions Prohibited

Powerful business and construction groups are backing a Republican bill that would prevent state and local governments from requiring bidders on public projects to reach agreements with labor unions on wages and other issues.

The measure, Assembly Bill 24, is backed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), Americans for Prosperity, and Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. WMC, the state’s largest business group, and Americans for Prosperity, a rightwing ideological group founded and funded by the Koch brothers, have spent more than $24 million since January 2010 to help elect Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature.

Project labor agreements are commonly used in the construction industry to lay out standards such as wages, benefits and safety guidelines. The proposal would allow local governments to use project labor agreements if they wish, but would not require them to do so.

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Rob Hutton, of Brookfield, and Sen. Leah Vukmir, of Wauwatosa, received a public hearing Tuesday. The proposal was among numerous anti-labor items released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2016 to show states how to “promote a favorable business climate.”

The bill would prohibit:

State and communities from requiring businesses that want to bid on a public projects from having to enter into project labor agreements with unions;

State and local governments from considering the lack of a project labor agreement as a factor in awarding a bidder a project contract;

State and local governments from requiring businesses that bid on projects, or their employees, from becoming dues-paying union members.

Democrats and unions say the labor agreements boost wages and ensure compliance with workplace rules, governing safety and equal opportunity. Another argument that union leaders make is that public and private projects covered by the agreements also tend to be done on time and on budget and use local, skilled workers. The GOP bill would also take away local control, the unions and Democrats say.

Both WMC and Americans for Prosperity are routine election-time backers of Republicans and conservatives for legislative and statewide offices, and frequently support anti-labor proposals.

WMC has spent an estimated $18.6 million on outside electioneering activities since January 2010, including an estimated $9.5 million, to help Walker win his 2010 general, 2012 recall, and 2014 reelection contests.

Americans for Prosperity has spent an estimated $5.7 million on outside electioneering since January 2010, including about $3.7 million to help Walker win his 2012 recall.

Vukmir’s top individual contributors between January 2013 and October 2016 were

Michael and Sandra Harsh, of Wales, $3,000. Michael Harsh is a GE Healthcare executive and Sandra Harsh is a VA Hospital nurse;

Sally and Gary Sprenger, of Mequon, owners of Anew Health Care Services, $2,978;

Carol and William Klug, of Rubicon, managers of the Klug Family Foundation, $2,500.

Hutton’s top contributors between January 2013 and October 2016 were:

Richard and Carol Bayerlein, of Elm Grove, owners of Bay-San Co., $2,100;

John and Jane Evans, of Oconomowoc, retired, $2,000;

Ted and Sharon Hutton, of Brookfield, retired, $1,650.