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labor leaders (copy)

Jim Koeberl of the United Auto Workers speaks at a news conference.

M.P. KING -- State Journal

Although they've pledged to do "everything we can" to fight a right-to-work bill moving quickly through the Legislature, many union officials in Wisconsin see its passage as inevitable.

That's not just because they know Republicans hold control of both houses of the Legislature and the governorship — it's also because they believe moneyed interests are calling the shots.

"I think there's some outside influence of money, and that ALEC is telling these Republicans, 'This is what you need to do,'" said Sally Feistel, a Steelworkers union representative.

Jim Koeberl, a representative for United Auto Workers Region 4, said he believes some Republican lawmakers are opposed to the bill, but will vote for it out of political pressure.

Koeberl said he believes influential entities like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the billionaire Koch brothers are sending GOP lawmakers a message: "If they don't toe the line, they're going to primary them and take them out."

The left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy pointed out on Friday that the bill, released Friday afternoon, shares many similarities with model legislation drafted by ALEC.

Two key passages in the Wisconsin bill mirror those in the model bill promoted by ALEC, a corporate-backed conservative nonprofit that focuses on state policy. Watchdogs also noted similarities to the ALEC model bill when Michigan's law was passed in 2012. 

But while right-to-work opponents cry foul, the bill's backers say the similarities are rooted in an effort to create sound public policy.

The language in Wisconsin's bill was based on laws in Indiana and Michigan, said Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Tanck noted that both states' laws have been upheld by both state and federal courts. 

Tanck said the bill was crafted like other states' to ensure it is statutorily and legally sound and results in good public policy. 

She said it's possible ALEC has borrowed language for its bill from states that have successfully implemented right-to-work laws and said a review of the bill's drafting files would show no ALEC influence.

Indeed, the drafting files for the bill contain no pieces of model legislation. The language in the similar passages was sent to drafting attorneys in the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau by Fitzgerald aide Lucas Vebber on Dec. 16, 2014.

The provisions were part of a set of drafting instructions listed with bullet points. 

The drafting files also show that under the initial request, a violation of the law would result in a civil forfeiture. Under the version of the bill released on Friday, it would be a misdemeanor to violate the law.

Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said right-to-work legislation would have a "tremendous negative effect on working families." 

He urged opponents to talk to legislators about creating jobs, not bowing to the "wishes and whims of ALEC."

While union leaders focused their criticisms on ALEC, the liberal group One Wisconsin Now tied the right-to-work push to the conservative Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation.

An OWN review of federal tax records found in 2012 and 2013, the Bradley Foundation gave $8 million to support about three dozen groups that supported right-to-work policies, including ALEC.

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The Bradley Foundation is headed by Michael Grebe, a campaign co-chairman for Gov. Scott Walker.

OWN executive director Scot Ross said the Bradley Foundation is "paving the way for Gov. Walker’s right-wing, Tea Party agenda with a massive propaganda campaign" and called the bill "wrong for Wisconsin."

With an eye on a presidential bid, Walker had, in recent months, urged lawmakers to hold off on taking up such a bill, calling it a "distraction." On Friday, he broke a long silence on whether he would go so far as to veto the bill, confirming that he will sign it if it makes it to his desk.

Fitzgerald said on Friday that he spoke with Walker last Wednesday about a number of topics, including right-to-work. He also spoke with Walker chief of staff Eric Schutt several times throughout the week to prepare the governor's administration for the contentious debate the bill will likely bring. Capitol police have also been made aware that the bill will be taken up in an extraordinary session this week.

Plans for an extraordinary session weren't yet in place when Fitzgerald spoke with the governor, he said.

Walker's signature legislation, Act 10, scrapped collective bargaining rights for most public-sector employees. Right-to-work laws — on the books in 24 states — prevent private-sector employees from being required to pay fees to a union as a condition of employment.

Leadership committees in the state Senate and Assembly voted Monday, on party lines, to take up right-to-work legislation in an extraordinary session later this week. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Senate Labor Committee will then vote to send the bill to the Senate, which is expected to take up the bill on Wednesday. The Assembly is expected to take it up next week.

Protests are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, though it remains to be seen if they will reach the scale of those triggered by Act 10.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.