Wisconsin Law Limiting Public Worker Unions Struck Down

Wisconsin laws limiting public employees’ collective bargaining rights were declared unconstitutional by a state court judge.

Judge Juan B. Colas in Madison yesterday ruled the measures signed into law last year by Republican Governor Scott Walker unduly burden the free-association and free-speech rights of union members. He declared them “void and without effect.”

“Without any evidence or argument that the infringement serves to prevent an evil in the operation of the bargaining system created by the statutes, the court must find the infringement to be excessive,” Colas wrote.

The legislation championed by Walker, a first-term governor, required annual recertification votes for union representation and made the payment of union dues voluntary. It exempted firefighters and police officers.

The laws, known as Act 10, touched off protests at the state capital and triggered a drive for a recall election this year in which Walker triumphed over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

“We believe that Act 10 is constitutional in all respects and will be appealing this decision,” state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, said today in an e-mailed statement.

“We also will be seeking a stay of Friday’s decision pending appeal in order to allow the law to continue in effect as it has for more than a year while the appellate courts address the legal issues,” Van Hollen said.

Walker Confident

Walker, in a separate statement, said he was confident the state would win a reversal.

“The people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5th,” the governor said, referring to the recall election outcome. “Now, they are ready to move on. Sadly a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the Legislature and the governor.”

Colas is the second judge to find fault with the legislation.

U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, invalidated those parts of the law which prohibited voluntary deduction of union dues from paychecks of general employees while exempting “public safety” unions, in a March 30 ruling. He also overturned a requirement for annual certification of a union by more than half of the members, not just those voting.

Oral Argument

The state has appealed that decision. Oral argument is scheduled for Sept. 24 at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Phil Neuenfeldt, president of Wisconsin’s chapter of the AFL-CIO, applauded yesterday’s ruling in an e-mailed statement.

“Walker’s attempts to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin’s public sector was an immoral, unjust and illegal power grab,” Neuenfeldt said. “Now, a court has ruled that the essential provisions of Act 10, Scott Walker’s Draconian attack on public worker’s right to collectively bargain, is unconstitutional.”

The case is Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker, 11-cv-3774, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Branch 10 (Madison). The federal court case is Wisconsin Education Association v. Walker, 12-2011, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).

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