BROWN DEER, Wis. - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday signed into law a measure that prohibits requiring a worker to pay union dues, striking another blow against organized labor four years after the state effectively ended collective bargaining for public-sector employees.
Walker, a likely presidential candidate fresh off a weekend visit to Iowa, signed the right-to-work bill affecting private-sector workers at an invitation-only ceremony at Badger Meter, north of Milwaukee. The company's president was one of the few business owners who publicly supported the measure, which rocketed through the Legislature in less than two weeks.
His sleeves rolled up and his suit jacket off, the Republican governor sat at a table with a banner that said "Freedom to Work" as he signed the bill that makes it a misdemeanor to require workers to pay unions dues.
Just before the signing, Walker said the new law "sends a powerful message across the country and around the world." He followed that up with a fund-raising plea to supporters.
"The Big Government Labor Bosses will never forgive me for taking away their power but we are doing the right thing," Walker said in the e-mail, noting that he had signed the law and asking for donations of $10, $100, or $1,000.
Supporters have argued the law will help keep and attract new businesses to the state that were wary of spending in Wisconsin before. But opponents say it will drive down wages and make the workplace less safe.
"By signing Right to Work into law, Gov. Walker continues his crusade on the hard-working, middle-class families of Wisconsin," Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said in a prepared statement.
A coalition of more than 400 businesses formed to oppose the bill, and more than 3,000 union members and others gathered at the Capitol in a failed attempt to block its passage.
Walker was surrounded Monday by Republican lawmakers who shepherded the bill through the process, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Representatives from the state chamber of commerce, along with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, were also on hand.
"This is one more big tool to help places like Badger Meter - when they can put jobs anywhere around the world, they can put them in Wisconsin," Walker said.
Badger Meter's chief executive and chairman Rich Meeusen said that because of the law, the company will place a $2.5 million piece of new water-control equipment at the Brown Deer facility and that will lead to 30 to 50 new manufacturing jobs in the state.