A pro-union sign is seen on the lawn of the United Auto Workers Union building in Oshkosh, Wis., on July 15, 2022. While public sector unions have been decimated by the passage in 2011 of Act 10, efforts are underway around the state to create new private sector unions. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)
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Act 10: The 2011 law signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that limited collective bargaining for non-public safety public employees to inflationary wage increases. Previously employees could bargain over benefits, working conditions and higher wages. The law also required affected employee unions to hold annual recertification votes in which a majority of all members must agree to retain their union. It also required certain public employees to pay higher pension and health insurance premiums.

Living wage ordinance: Before 2018, some Wisconsin cities set minimum base wages above the state and federal minimum wage for public employees and contractors’ employees. Republican lawmakers adopted 2017 Act 327, which preempted local governments from setting such wage floors. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle had previously signed a law blocking local governments from setting their own minimum wage above the state level, but it exempted local public employee living wage ordinances.

Prevailing wage: Wisconsin, beginning in 1931, required state contractors, like a road construction company, to pay workers the average wage in a given area for similar workers. The Republican-authored 2017-19 state budget repealed the state’s prevailing wage law. Federal prevailing wage floors remain in place for certain federally funded projects.

“Right-to-work” laws: In 2015, Wisconsin became the 25th state to adopt legislation that allows private sector workers to decide whether to pay union dues. Under federal law, unions must represent all employees in a workplace. As a result, “right-to-work” laws allow employees to receive the benefits of negotiated contracts and union representation in employment disputes without having to pay.

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Jacob Resneck joined Wisconsin Watch in 2022 via Report for America, covering threats to democracy with an emphasis on rights in the workplace. Previously, he worked in Juneau, Alaska as an editor and reporter for the nonprofit public media consortium CoastAlaska. Before that he spent more than eight years abroad reporting from Germany, Turkey, the Balkans and Middle East. He’s also worked for weekly and daily newspapers in rural Northern California where he grew up and New York’s Adirondack Mountains. He now lives in Oshkosh with his wife, a poet and teacher and their two young children.