Wisconsin Unions Lose Bid to Block Walker’s Right-to-Work Law

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker walks off stage after speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on February 26, 2015.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s administration beat back an organized labor bid to block a law barring the collection of fees from people who opt out of joining their workplace unions.

Walker, a second-term governor, is looking to fortify his anti-union credentials as he gears up for a likely run at the Republican presidential nomination next year. He’s in South Carolina today, where he spoke to about 150 Republicans gathered in Columbia.

“I signed into law what now makes Wisconsin the 25th state in the nation to have right to work,” he said to applause. “We want people to have the freedom to work, no matter where they work, or what they do, or what their background.”

Three labor groups sued to invalidate the Wisconsin law, claiming it forces them to represent non-union employees within unionized workplaces for free. They sought a court order putting the legislation known as Act 1 on hold while they challenged it.

Judge C. William Foust in Madison, Wisconsin, on Thursday denied the request, ruling the suing unions failed to prove they’d be irreparably harmed by the law. The lawsuit can proceed while the legislation remains in place.

The union skirmish arose as Walker, 47, began wooing voters in Iowa and while newly elected Republican Governor Bruce Rauner in neighboring Illinois fights to preserve his own executive order barring non-union public workers from being forced to pay so-called fair-share fees.

Indiana Challenges

A similar provision in Indiana withstood state and federal lawsuits while a challenge to the measure in Michigan is still pending in Detroit federal court.

Wisconsin’s Act 1 makes it a crime to require the payment of union fees by non-members as a condition of employment.

Opponents suing to overturn the legislation include the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO which, according to its complaint, represents more than 200 affiliated groups with 100,000 private-sector workers among them.

State law requires unions to represent the majority of a workplace’s employees, according to the labor groups. State and federal laws require unions to represent everyone in a unionized workplace fairly whether they’re members or not.

“Unions do not have the option to do nothing,” labor lawyer Frederick Perillo said in court on Thursday. Act 1 “requires us to provide real representation that costs real money.”

Expensive Changes

Assistant State Attorney General David Meany countered that the law had no effect on the amount of money unions had in their treasuries and that the law wasn’t taking anything from them. He likened the measure to changes other businesses must make to comply with new laws which can be expensive but aren’t unconstitutionally taking property from them.

Republican state Attorney General Brad Schimel said in court filings that right-to-work laws are allowed by the federal law.

States are allowed to choose between fair-share union security agreements or right-to-work provisions, Schimel said. “Wisconsin chose the latter.”

Unions are free to offer fewer services to member and non-member employees in a particular workplace, the attorney general said.

Foust, while holding the door open for the labor groups to prove Act 1 is unconstitutional at a later date, called their claims of immediate irreparable harm “speculative.”

Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt called the judge’s ruling “another injustice for working people.”

Walker, after fending off a union-backed recall, last year won a four-year court battle over 2011 legislation curbing the collective bargaining power of some public sector employees.

He was re-elected in November, defeating Democrat Mary Burke.

The case is Machinists Local Lodge 1061 v. State of Wisconsin, 15-cv-0628, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).

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