Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a leading aspirant for the Republican nomination for president, made his state the 25th “right-to-work” state in the nation on March 9 when he signed a measure passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.
He may soon get another crack at a worker-unfriendly law: Legislators have introduced a bill to abolish employees’ legal right to at least one day off per week.
State law currently allows factory or retail employees to work seven days or more in a row for a limited period, but they and their employer have to jointly petition the Department of Workforce Development for a waiver. These petitions apparently number a couple of hundred a year. The new proposal would allow workers to “voluntarily choose” to work without a day of rest. The state agency wouldn’t have a say.
It can’t be a secret what “voluntarily” really means in this context. As Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda told the Nation, the measure “completely ignores the power dynamic in the workplace, where workers often have a proverbial gun to the head.” Workers will know that if the boss demands it, they’ll be volunteering or else.
The new measure tracks one last year that was introduced too late in the legislative session to reach a vote. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported at the time, it came directly from the wish list of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s biggest business lobbying group. According to the newspaper, the measure’s sponsors at first “said they had heard from businesses with employees who want to work the additional time.” Under questioning, one sponsor, Republican state Rep. Mark Born, acknowledged that he had met only with representatives of the business lobbying group.
Walker hasn’t said he would sign the bill, but he hasn’t spoken out against it either; nor did he when it was introduced last year. The elimination of a guaranteed weekend would fit nicely with the rest of Walker’s anti-worker platform, which includes his having ended collective bargaining rights for most public sector employees and signing the deceitfully named “right to work” law, which prohibits requirements that private-sector workers join unions or pay a representation fee as a condition of employment. Right-to-work laws in general are associated with poorer workplace conditions and lower pay than in union-friendlier states.
Walker would have a case to make to GOP voters if these policies yielded higher job growth. They haven’t. Bloomberg economic analyst Christopher Flavelle wrote recently that as measured by improvement in “the living standards of the people he represents... Walker’s tenure falls somewhere between lackluster and a failure.”
Since Walker took office, Wisconsin’s economic performance has ranked a dismal 35th in Bloomberg’s economic index of states. Private sector job growth lags behind such neighboring states as Minnesota and Michigan -- not to mention California, where labor and fiscal policies are at the opposite pole from Walker’s. Bloomberg’s index of share values for Wisconsin-based public companies shows they lag well behind Iowa, Minnesota and the median state. (See accompanying graphics package for details.)
This week brought another dose of bad news for Walker: his state fell to 38th in the nation in job growth for the year ended Sept. 30, 2014, at 1.16%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (For comparison, California ranked seventh, at 3.1%.)
Wisconsin’s budget situation is dire, with state tax revenue increasing at a fraction of the rate of the median state--4% vs. 20%--in 2011-14. In February, the state announced it would delay a scheduled $108-million principal payment on its debt. Under Walker, Wisconsinites seem to be facing a double-whammy--lousy performance at the state level, and a continuing assault on their household income.