Republicans in the Legislature are expediting bills that would allow companies to cut back worker hours as an alternative to layoffs.

An Assembly bill and a Senate bill are designed to help companies that have lost business keep their workers by instead scaling back the hours that those employees work.

Democrats oppose this bill, called the “Keep Wisconsin Working Act,” in part because it allows companies to cut worker hours without the consent of labor unions, according to a joint statement by Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee; Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point; and Assistant Assembly Minority Leader Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood.

In the statement, Larson, Lassa and Pasch said this is yet another tactic Republicans are using to lessen union power in the state.

If the bill passes, Wisconsin will be the 25th state to institute this type of law. Twenty-three of the 24 other states with these laws require union consent before cutting back their employees’ hours.

Larson said the 2011 union battle over Act 10, which stripped collective bargaining rights for some public unions, showed Republicans are now turning their attention to fighting private sector unions. 

Pasch said she worked with Lassa to author a virtually identical bill previously requiring businesses to include labor unions in the process of cutting back workers’ hours. 

Larson said Republicans are continuing their “war” against organized labor.

“Republicans began their war on bargaining rights with Act 10, and with this bill they have now turned their attention to private sector unions,” Larson said. “This is the beginning of ‘divide and conquer’ part two.”

Terri Griffiths, spokesperson for Rep. Edward Brooks, R-Reedsburg, refuted that assertion, saying the bill differs from previous drafts in two key ways.

It delays the bill’s start date until June 30, while providing a six-month extension to grant the Department of Workforce Development additional opportunities to implement this program, she said. 

Unlike previous drafts of the bill, she added, this one does not require a work-share agreement to be approved from a union representative.

“Federal law does not require this provision, and the bill already contains important protections for employees,” Brooks said in a statement.

In their joint statement, Larson, Lassa and Pasch said they disagreed with the process the bill is making its way through the legislature.

Pasch said this bill is being expedited in order to skirt the opposition and said Republicans are trying to get the bill through before it gains attention from unions and the public.

“I urge the Republican authors of this flawed legislation to slow down and work with us in a bipartisan manner to ensure that we avoid completely unnecessary conflict and delay in implementing a work-share program,” Pasch said.

Lassa said Republicans are “rushing” the bill through before private sector unions and the public have a chance to examine it and react.

Brooks refuted the claim that the bill is designed to step on unions and Republicans are wrongfully taking advantage of the legislative process.

“With more than 200,000 Wisconsin residents unemployed, this issue is too important to politicize,” Brooks said. “This bill is about jobs and nothing else.”