Bill aims to ban cities from making union contracts a consideration when putting out bids for a job

MILWAUKEE -- A bill in Madison would ban local governments from requiring that companies bidding for a project have union ties. Supporters of the bill say it will encourage more competition. But critics say it is another Republican attack on unions -- one that is hypocritical.

Projects like the new Milwaukee Bucks arena or Northwestern Mutual Tower that already have labor agreements would not be affected. But going forward, the Republican-backed bill would ban cities from making union contracts a consideration when putting out bids for a job.

Brookfield Rep. Rob Hutton is the lead author in the Assembly.

"Really, it's a government neutrality piece of legislation; simply saying government shouldn't be creating barriers to entry that contain requirements that aren't germane to any firm," Hutton said.

Critics say unions help ensure a quality workforce, estimating members statewide put $30 million toward worker training each year.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

"If we're going to do something that threatens that pipeline, somebody better have a really clear answer to how we're going to keep having those skilled workers -- and by the way, those are pretty good jobs," said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Hutton says union contractors can still get the same amount of work -- they should just face all competition for public projects. He also disputes criticism that it is hypocritical for conservative lawmakers in Madison to dictate how local governments operate.

"I certainly don't believe a local unit of government should have the ability to exclude any firms, in this case, that are well-qualified, from even participating in a bid," Hutton said.

Worker at Milwaukee Bucks arena project

Officials with the Milwaukee Building Trades Council say eventually this bill would deconstruct workers' wages.

Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building Trades Council

"Who's going to benefit from this? Probably those at the top who want people to work for a little less and make a little more," said Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building Trades Council.

The Senate and Assembly held hearings on the bill earlier this week. Rep. Hutton says he expects the Senate to go first with the bill reaching the floor in about two weeks.