Wisconsin AG Seeks Delay in Ruling on Bargaining Rights

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked a state court judge to delay, pending appeal, a decision that laws curbing public employee collective bargaining rights are unconstitutional.

Judge Juan B. Colas in Madison on Sept. 14 ruled the legislation known as Act 10, signed by Governor Scott Walker last year, violated public workers’ rights of free speech and free association.

The laws, which included measures requiring annual votes to re-certify unions and making the payment of dues voluntary, were deemed by Colas to be immediately “void and without effect.”

“Act 10 addressed real and significant financial problems faced by local governments,” Van Hollen said today in a statement announcing the filing. “It makes no sense to force a return to a broken system before the appellate process is completed.”

Signed in March 2011, the legislation exempted firefighters and police officers. It touched off protests outside the state’s Capitol and a recall election this year in which Walker -- a first-term Republican -- defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett.

Free Speech

The statutes “single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States constitutions,” Colas said.

Walker, in a statement issued that day, called Colas “a liberal activist judge who wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor.”

Van Hollen, in his brief filed today, argued that the measure gave local governments more flexibility to provide services without increases in taxes or state aid. He also said the state would probably obtain a reversal on appeal.

The attorney general said municipal governments and their workers will endure “substantial confusion” over the status of decertified bargaining agents while the status of the law is uncertain.

“We don’t think that the attorney general has made a sufficient case for why this ruling should be stayed,” plaintiffs’ attorney Lester Pines said today in telephone interview, adding he didn’t think Colas would grant the request.

“This is not rocket science,” he said of Van Hollen’s claim of ensuing municipal confusion.

The case is Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker, 11-cv-3774, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Branch 10 (Madison).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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