Rob Hutton - project labor agreements

State and local governments in Wisconsin would be barred from requiring contractors to reach agreements with unions on publicly-funded projects under a bill on its way to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.

State and local governments in Wisconsin would be barred from requiring contractors to reach agreements with unions on publicly-funded projects under a bill on its way to Gov. Scott Walker's desk.

The Assembly voted on party lines, with Democrats opposed, on Thursday to approve a bill authored by Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, which prohibits governments from requiring project labor agreements that set conditions for workers. 

The bill's supporters say it will encourage more construction firms to bid on projects, leading to taxpayer savings. Opponents say it is part of a continued effort to weaken labor unions and would put worker safety and wages at risk.

"We’re saying let the market decide, let employers decide," Hutton told reporters before the vote. "This is really just to clarify and get the government out of the business of determining whether a project labor agreement is necessary."

Project labor agreements are not commonly required in Wisconsin. 

Democrats spoke at length against the measure. Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, said the bill will lead to lower wages for workers and lower-quality work on public projects.

Stuck said Republican lawmakers with "soft hands and round bellies" voting in favor of the bill could not do the work her husband, a steelworker journeyman, does.

"You're going to lower wages for the hard-working families in the state of Wisconsin," said Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee.

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, disputed the argument that work quality will suffer under the measure. If a local government determines a union contract offers a high quality for a reasonable price, it can make that choice, he said.

Vos also disputed the suggestion that the bill, along with bills eliminating collective bargaining for public employees and making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, is part of an effort to restrict the power of unions.

"It's making sure we have freedom for workers and freedom for the taxpayers," Vos said.

The Senate voted on party lines to approve the bill last month. 

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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.