By Mark Guarino
(Reuters) - Wisconsin Republicans say they plan to start the new year by introducing a right-to-work measure that would prohibit private sector labor unions from requiring workers to pay dues.
Republicans control both sides of the Wisconsin Legislature and the governor's mansion, leaving a clear path for right-to-work legislation that is already law in 24 states, including Michigan and Indiana, where laws were approved in 2012.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Thursday said in a statement that the legislature "simply cannot avoid engaging in an open debate" about right-to-work legislation and wanted to determine the most appropriate version for Wisconsin.
Fitzgerald said the legislature owed it to residents to have a public policy discussion on the issue.
Supporters of right-to-work legislation say it promotes the individual liberty of workers by giving them the choice of whether or not to join a union, and perhaps more importantly, whether to pay membership dues.
Opponents say the legislation weakens union solidarity and will lead to lower wages for all workers.
"It's a power grab," Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said on Friday in a telephone interview.
Neuenfeldt said that a right-to-work law would allow employers to divide workers against each other and make it easier to get agreements passed that have lower wages over time.
Republicans took a majority in the Wisconsin legislature in the 2010 elections, when Republican Governor Scott Walker won his first term and approved laws in 2011 restricting collective bargaining for most public sector unions except police and fire amid protests from Democrats and unions in Madison.
Walker has made public statements since then that right-to-work is not a priority.
But foundation has been laid to push the legislation when the next Wisconsin legislative session begins in early January.
Wisconsin Right to Work, a nonprofit, was launched on Monday to promote right-to-work efforts and on Friday launched a radio ad campaign, it said on its Facebook site.
Lorri Pickens, the group's executive director, is a former director of state operations for Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
(Reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago; Editing by Sandra Maler)