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Wisconsin Assembly passes bill to bar union labor mandates

The Wisconsin Assembly passed measures Thursday that would eliminate the state's treasurer's office and bar local governments from requiring union workers on public construction projects.

The proposal to eliminate the treasurer's office has now passed the Assembly and state Senate in two consecutive legislative sessions. That means the proposal will be a referendum on statewide ballots in April 2018, so voters can weigh in on the issue.

"I say let the people decide," said Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, the sponsor of the bill. "If they decide not to eliminate (the office), I'll be the first legislator to step forward and to put responsibility back into that elected position."

Supporters of eliminating the treasurer's office, including the incumbent treasurer, say most responsibilities have been transferred out of the office to other state agencies. The treasurer's only remaining responsibility is serving on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

A bill that would bar local governments from requiring union workers on public construction projects also passed Thursday, and is now headed to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.

The state Assembly approved the bill on a party line vote, with Democrats voting against. The Senate passed the measure last month.

The proposal would bar local governments from requiring contractors to enter into so-called "project labor agreements" on public construction projects. Those agreements set things such as working conditions, and whether union workers or representatives of certain minority groups are hired to work on the project.

Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, is one of the bill's sponsors. He said it opens up opportunities for non-union workers in the state.

"This bill is not an anti-union, nor is it a pro-union piece of legislation, but it is a pro-worker piece of legislation that we should all be able to get behind," Hutton said during debate.

But Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said the bill is a "solution looking for a problem."

"The bottom line, after all this debate, is this really is just another Republican attack on Wisconsin workers," Sinicki said.

Opponents also say the change would lead to lower wages, and declines in working conditions and project quality.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.

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