A proposal going through the Wisconsin state legislature would allow employers to reduce employees’ hours, including union members, instead of laying off workers.
Democrats in the state jumped on the bill, saying it undermines private sector unions by allowing employers to create a work-sharing program without approval of union representatives. Several state senators claim Republicans, after a victory over public-sector unions last year, are turning their sights on private unions.
A work-sharing program allows an employer to cut hours from full-time to part-time instead of laying off workers. Employees with reduced hours are then eligible for unemployment benefits to help make up for lost wages. But Democrats say the bill as-written is an attack on unions.
President Obama has encouraged work-sharing programs, but Democrats argue union approval is a necessary part of the legislation. Twenty-four states have work-sharing programs, and all but one require union approval, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“Republicans began their war on bargaining rights with Act 10, and with this bill they have now turned their attention to private sector unions,” Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson said in a statement on Tuesday. “This bill is a clear opening shot at undermining private sector unions.”
State Senator Julie Lassa co-authored a bill that would subject work-sharing programs to the approval of union representatives. Her bill would replace the Republican-authored Assembly and Senate bills under consideration.
“This is the beginning of ‘divide and conquer’ part two,” said Lassa in a statement. “The Farrow-Brooks bill says that private sector unions shouldn’t be able to negotiate for their members. It’s one more step toward their goal of ending the right of Wisconsin citizens to have their voice heard in the workplace.”
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, votes could happen as soon as Thursday.