by Lori Compas
I spent this morning calling local chambers of commerce in Republican state senate districts in an effort to get their take on the so-called “right to work” legislation that is scheduled to be introduced at the State Capitol this week.
Since the State Chamber of Commerce, or WMC, is strongly supporting the legislation, I was curious to learn where local business associations stand on the issue.
Specifically, I wanted to learn the answer to this question: Is WMC really representing Wisconsin’s broad and diverse business community when it claims that businesses want legislators to enact “right to work” laws?
The answer was astonishing: I could not find a single Chamber in the districts of senators Fitzgerald, Cowles, Olsen, Moulton, Petrowski, Nass, Lasee, or Harsdorf that supports “right to work.”
In fact, I heard statements like these again and again: “We’re not taking a position on that.” “We don’t take a stand on political issues.” “We only advocate for political issues when there’s a strong consensus among our members — and we don’t have consensus on this.”
A Chamber official in Senator Fitzgerald’s district said, “We won’t take a stand on that one way or another. We’re part of WMC because we get a lot of resources from them, like mentoring and executive training and other benefits, but that doesn’t mean we support their legislative agenda.”
Another Chamber official, this time in Senator Lasee’s district, said, “Everyone I have talked to says that it is an issue that should be left between employers and their employees. I haven’t found anyone who says we need the government to tell us how to run our business.”
And another, back in Fitzgerald’s district: “We aren’t officially taking a stand, but why would we support something that makes wages go down? It might help a few really big businesses, but our members are mostly small businesses that rely on customers who can afford to go out to eat and stuff like that.”
Our organization, the Wisconsin Business Alliance, has been saying the same thing for the past two years: Our modern economy relies on consumers with money to spend. We advocate for policies that promote education, expand opportunities in new sectors like renewable energy, and raise the standard of living for everyone. That’s why we strongly oppose so-called “right to work” legislation.
And after talking with these local business leaders, I’m encouraged that so many of them agree with us — but I must admit that I’m perplexed. I wonder why WMC claims to advocate on behalf of local Chambers but actually lobbies hard for policies that local Chambers don’t support. I wonder why WMC is lobbying for “right to work” when the principle runs counter to the best interests of most Wisconsin businesses. And I wonder who is paying WMC’s expensive lobbyists: Is it the local Chambers that don’t agree with what they’re doing? Is it a few big businesses who want to pay their workers less? Is it donors from out of state?
One important note: I was not able to make contact with all Chambers in these districts. Some Republican state senators apparently don’t have a single Chamber in their district with a full-time staff. I had to leave messages with the part-time Chambers in Senator Harsdorf’s district, for example. It’s not unusual for small towns to not have enough business activity to support a full-time Chamber staff, but it does highlight the fact that Democrats tend to represent the biggest economic powerhouses of our state. I hope that fact will be given due consideration during the debate over this legislation.
I don’t have time to call every chamber of commerce in the state of Wisconsin. But give it a try yourself: Call your local chamber and see if they support “right to work.” Then call your state senator’s office (find contact info here) to let them know where your community’s business leaders really stand.
If you find any Chamber official willing to give “right to work” some love, let me know. So far I’m not hearing any local business leaders clamoring for it.