Judge Strikes Parts of Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law

A circuit court judge in Wisconsin struck down parts of the controversial law curbing collective bargaining rights on September 14, 2012.  The law, Wisconsin Acts 10 and 32, which was passed by the Legislature in March 2011, limited collective bargaining to wages only and further imposed a restriction that collectively bargained wage increases could not exceed the inflation rate.  Furthermore, the law prohibited collective “fair share” agreements in which all bargaining unit members pay a proportionate share toward collective bargaining; and imposed stringent certification requirements, among other restrictions.

In Madison Teachers Inc., et al. v. Scott Walker, et al., Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas held that the law violates both the Wisconsin and U.S. constitutions.  The case posits that although the law does not outright restrict the freedom of speech or association, two constitutionally protected rights, the law burdens the exercise of those rights.  For example, since the employees who choose to become members of the union are restricted from bargaining wages and further limited to how much they can seek, and those who do not join the union are not restricted, the law effectively burdens exercise of those constitutional protections by rewarding those who give up their free speech and freedom of association rights.  As such, the law also infringes upon the constitution’s equal protection clause by creating two classes of similarly situated employees (members and non-members of the union) who are treated differently and unequally.  The decision also invalidates the portion of the law that prohibits the City of Milwaukee from paying employees’ share of contributions to the City of Milwaukee Employee Retirement System.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs are a teachers’ union and municipal employees’ unions as well as members of those unions; the defendants are Governor Scott Walker, who spearheaded the law six weeks after he took office, and the three members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.  Since the decision was issued, public-sector unions have been trying to bargain new contracts in case the decision gets overturned.  The case is now pending before the Wisconsin appeals court.

The law spurred controversy since its inception.  All of Wisconsin’s Democratic senators boycotted a vote on the bill by fleeing the state.  After the bill was passed, protests erupted in Wisconsin and around the country and several other lawsuits have been filed concerning other portions of the legislation.  In June 2012, Governor Scott Walker survived a recall election, an initiative backed by labor unions.



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