MADISON, Wisconsin — The Wisconsin Senate is set to dive into what figures to be a fierce debate on a Republican right-to-work bill after an evening of bitter protests over the legislation at the state Capitol.
The Senate plans to take up the bill Wednesday afternoon, and the session looks like it could be long and ugly. Democrats are seething after Republicans on the Senate labor committee cut a public hearing on the bill short Tuesday evening. Dozens of people who had waited all day to speak flew into a rage, hurling profanities at the three GOP lawmakers on the panel.
Right-to-work laws, in place in 24 states, prohibit private-sector companies from reaching labor agreements in which workers have to pay fees to the unions as a condition of employment.
The legislators quickly approved the bill on a 3-1 vote. Sen. Chris Larson, a Milwaukee Democrat, didn't vote. When his name was called he accused committee Chairman Stephen Nass, a Whitewater Republican, of wimping out and left the room under a police escort.
Throngs of union supporters then gathered outside the Senate chamber, chanting, "We're still here" and "Whose house? Our house!" One protester held a sign that read, "We are not lab rats for Iowa, Scotty," a reference to GOP Gov. Scott Walker's presidential ambitions. Another protester wore a suit jacket over red long-johns and a Viking helmet with a sign taped to it that read, "Gore Scott Walker."
All but one of the protesters left after Capitol Police closed the building at 8 p.m. Officers led the remaining protester away in handcuffs after he refused to leave.
"This is just an example of them taking away workers' voice," said Bruce Colburn, vice president of Service Employees International Union. "What they did here was an act of political cowardice."