The state law that would end collective bargaining rights for a majority of public workers was struck down by a Wisconsin judge on Friday (9/14/12). The state law was introduced by Governor Scott Walker.
Wisconsin unions celebrated the ruling although it is unclear how it will affect current public contracts. Walker’s administration has filed an appeal and is hoping to keep the law in effect for the time-being.
Dane County Circuit Judge, Juan Colas ruled that the law violates both the state and U.S. Constitution. Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck had the opposite to say, stating that the DOJ believes the law is constitutional. The law, which was passed in March 2011, allowed for collective bargaining on wage increases no greater than the rate of inflation. However, workplace safety, vacation, health benefits could no longer be bargained for.
The judge stated that sections of the law ‘single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions.’
Local public workers affected by the law include teachers, city and county government employees, but excludes those who work for the state. The lawsuit was presented by a Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee public workers union.
The proposal was introduced in February 2011, six weeks after Walker took office. In June 2011, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutional after being blocked by a different Dane County judge.
Under the new law, public workers were required to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits while eliminating heir ability to collectively bargain over those same issues. According to Walker, the changes were needed to save money at a time when Wisconsin faced a $3 billion budget downfall, but union workers were not convinced. An effort to recall Walker from office followed and resulted in more than 930,000 signatured collected and ultimately a June recall election. To the unions’ discontent, Walker won and became the first governor in US history to survive a recall.
A group of unions filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in June 2011 and stated that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because it exempted firefighters and police officers. This resulted in law being upheld in March, but rulings are under appeal. A second lawsuit followed in July 2011. The case is pending.