Wisconsin Governor Walker Sued by Unions Challenging Bargaining-Rights Law
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was sued by two labor unions over a bill restricting collective bargaining by public employees while a state bureau published the law after the secretary of state was ordered not to do so.
A union representing public works employees in Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and another for firefighters and other public safety officers seek in the state court complaint filed yesterday to have the law invalidated.
Walker signed the law March 11 amid public protests outside the Capitol and after 14 Democratic state senators had boycotted the legislative session in an attempt to deprive the chamber of the quorum required to consider measures with a fiscal impact. A joint committee drawn from both houses severed the measure from a larger so-called budget repair bill, enabling it to be considered separately.
“When the senate passed said bill on March 9, 2011, it did so without the presence of the constitutionally required quorum,” the union locals said in their complaint.
The legislation, championed by the first-term Republican governor, requires annual recertification votes for union representation and makes payment of union dues voluntary.
Wisconsin’s Legislative Reference Bureau published the law yesterday, a step toward its enactment. Stephen Miller, chief of the bureau, said in a phone interview that the publication didn’t mean the law would take effect.
The agency, established to provide bill-drafting and research services to the Legislature, cited a law requiring it to publish an act within 10 working days of its approval, and added a footnote that acknowledged a judge’s March 18 order to Secretary of State Doug La Follette not to publish the statute.
“This is a step in the process which is required by state law,” said Miller, who called it a “a ministerial act.”
The edition of the law printed by his office is then sent to the secretary of state, whose statutory duty is to publish notice of it in a newspaper, Miller said.
Walker’s office forwarded a statement yesterday from a cabinet member saying the law would be put into effect.
“Today the administration was notified that the LRB published the budget repair bill as required by law,” Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said in that statement. “The administration will carry out the law as required.”
A Madison lawyer said the publication may present a legal opening for the governor.
Nobody Really knows’
“Nobody really knows what this means but it appears that it is at least arguable that the law is now in effect,” said Robert J. Dreps, a member of the political law practice group at Godfrey & Kahn SC in Madison. “The other side will argue that the court has to decide if this was a valid publication.”
Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, said the Department of Justice “will evaluate how the lawful publication of Act 10 affects pending litigation.” Cosh declined to comment on the unions’ lawsuit.
The firefighters union said in its complaint that the law’s exemption for firefighters and police officers creates “unnecessary conflict among the employees and divisions within and among public sector labor organizations.”
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker, didn’t return a phone message seeking comment on the complaint.
The union complaint was filed in Dane County Circuit Court in Madison. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, claiming lawmakers failed to comply with state open meetings laws when they drafted the bill, previously sued in the same court to overturn the law.
On March 18, Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order blocking La Follette from publishing the law. Van Hollen asked a state appeals court to set aside that order. On March 24, a three-judge appeals court panel referred the issue to the state’s Supreme Court, which hasn’t said whether it will take the case.
The union case is Laborers Local 236, AFL-CIO v. State of Wisconsin, 11cv1421, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).
The prosecutor’s case is State of Wisconsin Ex Rel. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 11cv1244, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison). The appellate case is Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 2011AP613-LV, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District 4 (Madison).