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Racine County residents for and against a proposed right-to-work bill attended a protest and public hearing that drew a crowd of thousands to the State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 24.

The legislation would only affect workers in the private sector, not public workers. But a number of public sector union members from the Racine Education Association and members of the Ironworkers Union attended a rally protesting the legislation while a local business owner showed up to watch a public hearing that lasted until 6:30 p.m.

After a rumor circulated that union members planned to peacefully protest the hearing at 7 p.m. But at 6:30 p.m., the hearing was cut short by the Senate Labor Committee. In a 3-1 vote, the Committee voted to have the issue put on the agenda for a vote in the full Senate on Wednesday, according the Journal Sentinel.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time wage and salary workers that were in a union had median weekly earnings of $970 per week while their non-union counterparts earn $763. However, those earnings differences don’t take into account variations in occupation, industry, age, firm size or geographic region.

In Wisconsin, 11.7 percent of workers were union members in 2014. This is down from 12.3 percent in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Randy Bryce, of Caledonia, serves as a political coordinator for Ironworkers Local 8. He signed up to speak at the hearing.

“The mood here is that we are not surprised with what Scott Walker and the Republicans are doing,” Bryce said. “This is just a distraction from a budget that is the worst in our state’s history.”

But union workers were trying to sway some of the Republican Senators to vote against the bill, Bryce said.

“If this passes, union members will become resentful of those who are not paying in because the non-union members won’t be paying dues, but they will get the same representation,” Bryce said. “But it makes for a more divisive workplace and it will keep businesses from coming here that use unions like GM.”

While thousands of people attended, the crowd wasn’t as big as it was during Act 10. Still, the crowd was much more respectful than the crowds during Act 10, said Mike Ottelien, who owns MO Decorating in Racine and supports the right-to-work legislation.

“Everyone here is very passionate whether for or against, but everyone has been very respectful on both sides of the aisle,” Ottelien said. “There has been no name calling….I applaud the heads of the union for that.”

Ottelien supports a person’s right to opt out of being in a union and he knows many people who are in a union that would like to opt out. A friend and supporter of Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Ottelien went to Madison to listen to the testimony.

“I think this will make union heads show more value to their members because they will have to listen more to their membership,” he said.

Ottelien doesn’t have a union in his business, but he does sub-contract work out to union shops.

“For me, I like the idea,” he said. “It shouldn’t be part of their employment.”






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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.