Wisconsin Senate, Walker go after collective bargaining agreements

By CARA LOMBARDO, Associated Press

The state Senate has passed a Republican bill that would limit union influence on bids for public projects. The bill, which passed 19-13 on party lines this week, prohibits state and local governments from requiring contractors bidding on their projects to enter into collective bargaining agreements called project labor agreements.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, who sponsored the measure, says it gives non-union firms the chance to bid on more projects.

But Democrats say it’s the latest iteration of Republican attacks on unions.

Both sides acknowledged few places in Wisconsin currently use project labor agreements, which can establish rules controlling work on a project upfront, such as setting work hours or requiring workers to join a union.

But union leaders and Democrats say PLAs can keep especially complex projects on schedule and ensure safe working conditions. They say local governments should get to decide whether to require PLAs or not.

“For a party that likes to talk about local control, this flies in its face,” Democratic Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling told Republicans. She said it invites non-union, out-of-state companies to steal work from Wisconsin companies.

Vukmir, who is from Brookfield, said her intent is to level the playing field, not tilt it. “What this piece of legislation does is establish neutrality, it establishes fairness,” Vukmir said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a news release following the vote that the measure helps guarantee taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

Republicans rejected amendments from Democratic senators that would have required subcontractors to prioritize hiring veterans and give preference to minority and female-owned businesses.

More than 20 other states have passed similar legislation. The bill’s language is a variation of a sample policy provided by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that pushes free market legislation.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill in March. If both the Senate and Assembly pass it, it would then go to Gov. Scott Walker who can sign it into law.

Walker’s budget proposal released Wednesday included prohibiting units of government from requiring PLAs on bids for public projects.