Wisconsin Union Law Backed by Walker Upheld by U.S. Court

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2011 legislation curbing the collective bargaining rights of some public unions and not others was upheld in its entirety by a federal appeals court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago today reversed a lower-court ruling that portions of the law were unconstitutional. The legislation sparked protests outside the state’s Capitol and a recall election in June, in which Walker, a Republican, defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, his Democratic challenger.

The parts of the law known as Act 10, requiring annual recertification votes and barring the voluntary deduction of dues, don’t violate U.S. constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law and free speech, the appeals court panel’s majority said in its 74-page decision.

“We now uphold Act 10 in its entirety,” U.S. Circuit Judge Joel Flaum wrote.

U.S. Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote the partial dissent. He broke with the majority on its approval of the state’s prohibition of voluntary payroll deductions “for some public employee unions but not others.”

‘Vital’ Provisions

The Wisconsin Education Association Council last year sued in federal court in Madison, the state’s capital city, seeking to overturn the law and saying it was politically motivated and discriminatory.

“Today’s court ruling is a victory for Wisconsin taxpayers,” Walker said in an e-mailed statement. The provisions in Act 10 “were vital in balancing Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without increasing taxes, without massive employee layoffs, and without cuts to programs like Medicaid,” he said.

U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled in March that the requirement that unions must vote -- by a majority of their membership, not merely those voting -- to re-certify each year violated the equal protection principle because some unions were classified as engaged in “public safety” and exempted from compliance.

All of the public safety unions qualifying for the exemption supported Walker in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign while none of the general employee unions to which the rule applied backed him, Conley said.

‘Gerrymandered’ Definition

Leon Dayan, a lawyer for the Wisconsin Education Association, said during his Sept. 24 appellate argument that the legislation contained a “gerrymandered” definition of public safety employee to protect those who backed Walker’s election in 2010.

“Its a political payback distinction and not a substantive policy distinction,” said Dayan, of the Washington firm Bredhoff & Kaiser PLLC. Dayan didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment on the ruling.

State Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson called the appeals court decision “an immense setback.”

“After half a century of labor progress in Wisconsin, upholding this divisive legislation will only hurt Wisconsin’s working, middle-class families,” Larson said in a statement.

Joined by U.S. Circuit Judge William Bauer, Flaum wrote that political favoritism is a frequent aspect of legislative action.

“Accordingly, we must resist the temptation to search for the legislature’s motivation for the act’s classifications,” the judges said in the ruling.

In a September ruling in a separate state court case, Judge Juan B. Colas in Madison declared the legislation unconstitutional after concluding it unduly burdened the free-association and free-speech rights of union members.

The state has appealed that ruling.

The case is Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Walker, 12-2011, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago).

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