Business owner: "Right to Work" does not "promote growth" for small businesses

Notably absent from the debate over so-called "right to work" legislation is support from local business owners.  Over 400 Wisconsin contractors have formed a coalition opposing the bill.  Even in very conservative districts, local Chambers of Commerce refuse to speak in favor of it.  And small business owners are terrified about what it means to local business and potential growth.

Small business owner Laura Komai has some serious concerns about the wage theft bill.  Like many small business owners, she fears the negative impacts of this bill that have already been demonstrated in other states.  Like many Wisconsinites, she was unable to testify on this fast-tracked legislation, and asked that her letter to legislators be made open to share her concerns with all who will listen to the voice of Wisconsin business owners who fear what this bill will mean to the future of the state we all love.  As per usual, she received the following autoreply from the Governor's office:

"I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor." 
I thank her for sharing her letter and her concerns, and urge lawmakers to take them seriously.  And I ask you to encourage the Governor to "keep her specific comments in mind" when this bill gets to his desk and put people before politics on this important and unpopular bill.
Small business owner Laura Komai knows her customers share
belief that "creating your own dream" is key to her success
in business and beyond.  She has one question for Gov. Walker
and the Wisconsin legislature:
What is this state doing to promote growth?

Dear Governor Walker and Wisconsin Legislators:
     I am writing to you as a graduate of the Madison public schools and the University of Wisconsin, and as a member of the Wisconsin Business Alliance. Though writing from Madison may leave me outside your district, I am writing as Wisconsin business owner with customers from around the state. I ask you to vote against “right to work,” the proposed cuts to the University, the ongoing cuts to the public school system, the undermining of environmental stewardship, and privatizing what should be government work (for the greater good, not for profit). I am very concerned about the effects of such legislative and budgetary actions upon the prosperity of Wisconsin’s citizens, and thus the success of my own business, not to mention others around the state.

        Until I started my own business with my sister in 2008, I never understood what people were talking about when they said government should be run more like a business. I still don’t entirely agree, but there are some things about running a business which I think that this state is ignoring at its peril. What does it mean to run a business? First and foremost, is the realization of my complete dependence upon other people: my business is nothing if not for customers, taxpayers, union members, government employees, students, women, employees, family. The success of my business depends upon the success of everyone.

        Other than that, there are really only two things on my mind:

  1. What is new and unique? I am constantly on the lookout for new products and how I can differentiate myself from others. Just a hint: someone can always offer lower prices. What is Wisconsin doing to cultivate new industries and new customers in areas where growth is occurring? Is it really useful to undercut University research and teaching? How are we building upon what is unique about this state, the good people, great
    Komai wants her customers, and her community
    to know that RTW is #WrongforWI and
    wrong for local businesses.
    schools and natural resources.
  2. How can I get more money?  How do I reach more customers and get them to spend more? What is Wisconsin doing about the earnings of the majority of its citizens? Frankly, the $60 I saved in property taxes can either be undermined or exponentially increased in a matter of minutes if I have more customers earning and spending more money. What is Wisconsin doing about the welfare of all of its citizens, about their quality of life and earning potential? I have seen distressingly little action that would bolster my customers and thus my business.

    Please note that taxes are not on that list. To be clear, I pay taxes, I just don’t base any of my business decisions on how they might change.

         So, I ask you: what is this state doing to promote growth? How is the budget or SB44 in service of such growth? What actions have been taken that would benefit the majority of my customers (the women? the middle class?). I have seen little evidence  that voucher and charter school expansion, “right” to work and reduced University funding will improve the bottom line of this business that is all of ours, the state of Wisconsin. I ask you to honor your commitment to our state Constitution and to all the people in your district and this state, to preserve that which keeps us unique and above all, improves the prosperity of all of our citizens.

         Thank you very much for your service and your attention.


Laura Komai, co-owner

218 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703

Ironworker: Wage Theft Bill will cost taxpayers, hurt workers, jobs

Milwaukee ironworker Randy Bryce took the day off to come to Madison to testify against the so-called Right to Work bill (SB44) that saw its only public hearing yesterday.  He sat in a crowded, heavily secured overflow room for over 10 hours, waiting for his chance to speak, before the hearing was abruptly shut down and he was unable to speak.  He shared his testimony in the hope that he would be heard, and I reshare it here with the same intention.  Like hundreds of others who waited all day to speak, Randy was shut out of the hearing yesterday.  Please listen to what he wanted legislators to know:

My testimony on #WageTheftBill by Randy Bryce

My name is Randy Bryce. I have been a member of Ironworkers Local 8 since 1997. 
I’ve had the privilege in that time to work on many of Wisconsin’s landmarks, private businesses, and, numerous parts of our infrastructure.

Prior to this, after leaving the US Army with an honorable discharge, I had several jobs that had no bright future, but, allowed me to pay my bills. (usually two jobs at a time)
One day, a friend of our family - a physician who had a patient that was the former ironworker apprenticeship coordinator let me know that the ironworkers were taking applications. I hated the job that I was at. It was in a dirty warehouse, and, I dreaded going into work every day.

I applied. I had never done construction work before. After going through the application process, I finally made it onto the apprenticeship list. I’m not going to go into great detail explaining how my apprenticeship went, because I understand that this body has a bill that they’d like to ram through before the rest of the state is aware of how horrible it really is. I’ll be as brief as possible.

Fact is, the ironworker's apprenticeship has the ability to take unskilled people off of the street, and, gives them a career that they are proud of. They taught me everything that I needed to know in order to now have a career that not only takes care of my family, but, has me proudly pointing out every project that I worked on as I drive throughout the state to my son Ben. 

That training isn’t cheap. But, WE pay for it through our union dues, and, from contributions from the contractors who hire us. The apprenticeship board consists of 5 union reps, 5 contractor reps, and, a rep from the state who meet monthly. Zero tax dollars are used. After passing the #WageTheftBill (let's not pretend that this bill involves rights or the ability to work) Michigan has found out that it is now lacking with skilled trades workers. They will soon be using tax money to train workers.

This horrible attack on the Building Trades is not good for anyone in the state. It is a blatant attack due to political ideologies. Sen. Fitzgerald admitted such when this idea was first mentioned when he sought to exempt certain unions who supported Republican candidates. (Unconstitutional) Proponents have admitted that it will not raise wages.

I am sure that you are all aware of the Wisconsin Contractor coalition - a group of around 400 private businesses - many of who donated heavily to Republican candidates - who are opposed to this bill. They see it for what it is - the government getting in the middle of how they hire their help.

We make those contractors a LOT of money. They CHOOSE to use us.

If we are not allowed to collect money from members who freely choose to join our organization, who will pay to train us? Why stop at collecting union dues. A college tuition freeze is nice, but, why not let the student get a degree, then pay what they feel it is worth? Why do groups who want to see this passed charge a membership fee? Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce charge fees. The Associated Builders and Contractors charge membership fees. Even ALEC charges membership fees - and I recall that taxpayers foot the bill for a few members of Wisconsin’s legislature to belong to that group. Think of all of the extra jobs that they could create if this bill only went a little bit further and actually addressed freeloading for all. Why not let people pay taxes based on how well they feel that they are being represented? (I think we know how that would turn out)

Another aspect of what is trying to be sold is that this bill gives workers a choice. There already is a choice. If somebody wants to do what I do for a living, there are plenty of open shops that already exist. People are free to go work there. They won’t get the same training that our union dues pay for, and, they probably won’t make the same amount of money as a result, but, they exist. Their lessor wages are what I refer to as their “nonunion dues”. It’s the cost that they choose to be paid for not joining a highly skilled workforce.

The ironworkers created the first union in order to pool money together in order to give someone killed on the job a decent burial. Because of what we saw that could be done by looking out for each other, we were able to demand safer working conditions. Our trade is annually listed among the top 5 with regard to having a high mortality rate, but, it is a lot better than it used to be.  
The union that I belong to is self insured. We get no sick days or holiday pay. As stated before, we pay to self train. Our instructors are experienced journey men ironworkers.There is ZERO burden on the taxpayer. The 4 year apprenticeship has members graduate with no student loan debt. Once graduating to Journeyman status, one can work anywhere in North America with a network that has been set up to attract skilled labor when an area faces a shortage. We have no seniority. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Our vacations are taken understanding that we will not get paid for the days that we are on vacation. All of our representatives are elected. All of the decisions that we make are voted on. The general membership is given monthly reports on how every dime is spent. Every dime spent is voted on. Unlike what is taking place this week, Ironworkers local 8 is PURE. DEMOCRACY.
Every single member of the legislature is cordially invited to come view our training facility. When running for state senate, I made it a point to invite members of the opposition party to see what we do.
I am disappointed beyond words at not just what this bill contains, but, how it is being passed. I am proud to be among those who build Wisconsin. My job is construction. This bill is demolition.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak my mind. Because I belong to a union, I was able to take off of work today and not fear that I would lose my job. 

Randy Bryce reads his testimony to reporters as state troopers prevent entry to the hearing room after the Wage Theft Bill hearing was abruptly shut down due to a "threat of disruption."

Wage Theft Bill Action Guide: Hold Legislators Accountable for Representing the Common Good

Don't be fooled Wisconsin!
The so-called "right to work" really called the "wage theft" law. Workplace freedom is about being able to take a grievance to your employer without fear. It's about being able to negotiate your pay fairly and about being able to take a day off when your child gets sick. Wisconsin workers want to be able to have a set schedule so they can know when to go to a meeting with their child's teacher.
Those are the types of workplace freedoms we should all have.
Image and caption: Overpass Light Brigade

What the Wage Theft Bill (aka "Right to Work") Means to Wisconsin and What You Can Do About It

Hold Wisconsin legislators accountable and let them know they have our support in doing the right thing

Wisconsin Republicans plan to fast-track an ALEC-authored Wage Theft Bill next week that would put Wisconsin on a fast track to lower wages and fewer living-wage jobs. [Bill text here].

Scott Walker says busting teachers' unions
will have jihadists quivering in fear.
Image and caption: Nicole Desautels
You may have heard already that Gov. Walker has been suggesting that his ability to "deal with" the protests in 2011 translates to the "security credentials" necessarily to "deal with" Putin, ISIS, etc.  He's also been sharing stories of dubious credibility of late, including ones that make the hardworking Wisconsin citizens opposed to his policies look like bloodthirsty criminals (such as a false one about how protesters tried to tip over his car, and new, unsubstantiated claims about threats to his family). 

At the same fundraiser in which he sat in silence as Rudy Giuliani claimed that Pres. Obama "doesn't love America,"  [update: Walker has since said he "doesn't know" if Obama "loves his country"], Gov. Walker said this, according to Larry Kudrow at the National Review:

"Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin."
Wisconsinites won't have the "weapon" of a vote on this issue.
Call on legislators to do the right thing with theirs.
That's right: In 2011, the Wisconsinites who stood in opposition to a budget that would gut our schools and revoke workers' rights were "union thugs".  In 2015, he wants the world to believe these citizens are no better than terrorists.

We learned now that there are plans to "crack down" on Capitol security next week.  Legislators have been told to be prepared to show ID to enter the building.

We are being played.  The divisive Wage Theft Bill on the table for passage next week is the "distraction" Walker was looking for to draw attention away from his much-criticized budget bill (which has taken lots of media heat from both the left and the right and already generated protests at UW-Madison and beyond), and they knew that the outrage would be strong from all sides. After months of saying the bill would be a "distraction," Walker said yesterday he'd sign it into law as soon as it hits his desk.  An angry "mob" trying to gain entry to the Capitol will be used to feed the narrative of Walker as the "victim" as he promotes his unpopular budget - and his own presidential aspirations. 


As in 2011, there is widespread bipartisan opposition to Walker's self-inflicted kick-the-can budget "crisis" as well as both the draconian budget and the Wage Theft Bill that would reduce wages & benefits, restrict worker protections, revoke workers' rights, and lead to decreased funding for public schools and other services.  We know this.  We have seen it happen in other states, as non-RWT states pick up the tab for the many working poor in RTW states who are forced to rely on subsidies to augment their poverty wages -- all during a time of record profits for corporations.  Data shows that states with Wage Theft Laws spend over 30% less on public schools.

This is not a partisan issue. 

It's not a question of "workers vs employers" either.  Or "union members vs non union members."  Check out this list of 400+ Wisconsin contractors who oppose Wage Theft Legislation

Listen to what former Republican Senator Dale Schultz has to say about the bill, which is likely to lead to an average lose of wages of $1,500 per person, per year:

“This is going to hurt Wisconsin employers terribly in the long run, as the workforce gets more angry. I represented a lot of blue-collar labor people, both union and non-union. So I know that even the wages of non-union workers are determined by collective bargaining. They may not be paying for it, but it has an impact. It’s a cowardly move to make certain the public can’t be heard on this issue and rush it through in a special session. They ought to be embarrassed or ashamed. I thought they would have at least gone through the trouble of having a sham public hearing, but they don’t even think that’s necessary here.”
Image: Defeat "Right To Work" in Wisconsin

We need to let our friends, neighbors and legislators know that we OPPOSE a budget that further guts our public schools and social services (while handing out money we can't afford for tax breaks and private school tuition vouchers) and we OPPOSE a Wage Theft Bill that makes it even harder to earn a living wage at a time when so many are struggling.  Good people deserve good jobs, good schools, and good communities.  And Wisconsin is full of good people.

These good people are the same nurses, teachers, laborers, retirees, students, professionals, and citizens of all walks of life who simply want to hold elected officials responsible for doing what they were elected to do: REPRESENT US, not special interests or campaign contributors.

We can only make this happen if we do OUR civic duty: TAKE ACTION.

Here's what you can do:

  • MOBILIZE.  Rallies are already planned for Milwaukee and Madison.
    Plan to be there if you can.  Peaceful protest is a way we can put a kind, human face to our concerns and counter the absurd, insulting portrait Gov. Walker would like to paint of us as a step away from radical terrorist thugs.  Think carefully about your signs, and send a positive message of support for living wage jobs and democracy (holding legislators accountable to represent the will of the people).
    • Mon. Feb. 23, Milwaukee: 5:00pm, Zeidler Union Square (4th and Michigan) 
    • Tues. Feb. 24, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
    • Wed. Feb. 25, Madison. Noon, Wisconsin State Capitol, State Street entrance.
Image: MTEA
Rallies are a powerful way to create a visibility and momentum for holding legislators accountable and letting them know they have our support in doing the right thing.  But there are many ways to protest this bill and attending a rally is just one of them.  Here are some others:
  • SPEAK UP.  Contact your legislators.  Call. Write. Visit their offices on Monday.  If they don't hear from you, they don't know you oppose the bills.  It's that simple.  You must contact them.
    If you're unsure of your legislators, find them here.  Or use the Citizen Action form here and send your letter online.
    You might also consider cc'ing your letter to the Governor and these key Senators, who may be more likely than others to vote for the people on this issue:
    Cowles -(920) 448-5092 Green Bay area
    Gudex -(608) 266-5300 Fond du Lac area
    Harsdorf -(608) 266-7745 River Falls
    Marklein -(608) 266-0703 Spring Green
    Petrowski -(608) 266-2502 Marathon
    Email addresses for your copy/paste convenience
    :, Sen.Gudex,,,,
  • SPEAK OUT.  Make your letter to your legislator an OPEN LETTER.   Post it online. Send it to your friends and neighbors. Print copies to pass out at work. This is critical to spreading the word and sharing our concerns widely.  If you want to make it really open, send it to me and I'll put in up on the blog.
  • Attend the PUBLIC HEARING on the bill on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 9am at the State Capitol.  You can register to speak or you can just register "for" or "against" the bill.
  • Talk to your neighbors, friends, family, colleagues, people you run into at the grocery store or school. Use email, call people. Do whatever it takes. 
  • Use social media. Share your letters, news links, and posts like this widely. If you're on twitter, use these hashtags: #WageTheftBill #WrongForWI #RightToWorkForLess
  • Sign this petition from AFL-CIO Wisconsin. Then share it widely.
  • Attend a listening session and share your concerns in person.  Visit your legislator's homepage or call his/her office to find out when listening sessions are being held in your community. This action has more impact than you can imagine, as these events are taken very seriously by legislators and are often not very well attended.  BE THERE and your voice will be amplified more than you know -- your representatives will hear you, and so will your local community.  Exhibit A:  a recent budget hearing in the conservative Mauston community got big coverage last week under the headline "Walker Budget Gets Bad Reviews at Listening Session.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper(s).  Keep it short, simple, personal, and to the point (250-350 words is the max for most papers).  Focus on the VALUES shared by members of your community, and how those shared values are threatened when we pass laws that hurt jobs, schools, workers, the elderly, etc.
  • Contact local government (city council, school board, county board members) and urge them to pass a resolution opposing the Wage Theft Bill and/or the budget.  Local officials answer to you: authorize them to speak on your behalf by putting pressure on them to do due diligence by your community! 
  • Know the facts.  According to a Marquette University economist, there is "simply no economic reason to argue for right-to-work in Wisconsin."  Share articles like this widely.
    Image: Wisconsin Jobs Now
  • Avoid the hype.  "Right to Work" is a confusing and misleading name for a bill that takes freedom, protections, and rights away from workers and is more accurately called a "Wage Theft Bill".  Don't fall into the trap of thinking that RTW is about creating jobs - it's not. States with RTW laws have lower wages, fewer protections, and more people on government assistance
  • Volunteer.  Contact your union or professional association, your local grassroots team, your civic groups, etc, and find out what local actions are being planned and how you can help.  One thing you can do today is volunteer to help phonebank  (in Madison) and let people know why this issue is so important to Wisconsin families.
  • Keep calm and do the right thing.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The time is always right to do what's right."  Take that charge seriously.  Even though it's evident that the supermajority in the assembly and senate can pass these bills regardless of what we say, that doesn't give us permission to stay silent or feel there's nothing we can do - if anything, it amplifies the urgency of speaking loudly, and as one.  

    Speaking truth to power isn't easy.  And it can be frustrating - terrifying, even - when we feel that "power" isn't just not listening, but is openly hostile to our concerns.

    But it's not our job to worry about whether they're listening.  We can't control that.  It's our job to have spoken at a time when what we had to say needed to be said.  That we can control.  That we can do. 

    Our silence is consent, and apathy is not an option when the common good is at stake. 

    Have faith.  Stay calm.  Do the right thing.  And, again, remember the words of Dr. King:  The arc of the moral universe is long,  as we have most certainly seen here in Wisconsin.  But it does bend toward justice.

Guest post: An Open Letter to Berlin Schools: Teach Respect, Not Racism

Image: Wisconsin Indian Education Association
Barbara E. Munson, Chair of the Wisconsin Indian Education Association's “Indian” Mascot & Logo Taskforce, has written an open letter to the Berlin Area School District's board, asking them to consider what is lost by retaining the use of their controversial mascot, the "Indians." The Berlin board voted to retain the mascot after conducting a survey of area residents and students.

The open letter reminds us that this decision doesn't "end" the debate - it just prolongs the discussion and forces the district to address more pressing questions about how they're preparing students to be global citizens:
How will your school prepare the 2015 graduating class to be culturally competent? How
will you teach them that they are not the ‘Indians,’ that they have never been the ‘Indians’ and that there are real people whose identities are defined by being Indian living nearby? People who do not fit the stereotypes and myths that students in the Berlin Schools promote and have come to believe are true? People who are demeaned and disrespected by race- based ‘Indian’ team name branding and the playacting and pageantry that accompanies Indian mascots. When will you teach them? How will you prepare your sons and daughters to enter the larger community post high school?

The book about race-based Indian mascots in Wisconsin is not finished, but the most recent chapter, has certainly not been about the District opening hearts and minds by applying good educational practices, but rather about Berlin repeatedly avoiding educational engagement. Perhaps the next chapters will be about how the Berlin community learns to undo the damage perpetrated by years of tolerating race-based stereotyping wrapped up in high school athletics and justified by bits of local history and a claim to be honoring people whose children and cultures are harmed by the practice.

Keeping the “Indian” branding keeps controversy alive and brings a dubious reputation to the community.
Read the full letter here.