Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin Anti-Union Law As Unconstitutional

Filed under: Labor Relations/Unions,Legal,News,Politics,The Economy |

A Wisconsin judge has struck down key sections of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s controversial anti-labor law, known as Act 10.

Thousands protest Gov. Walker's bill inside Wisconsin's capital rotunda. Photo: Joe Rowley

Thousands protested Gov. Walker’s bill inside Wisconsin’s capital rotunda in Feb. 2011. Photo: Joe Rowley

Circuit Judge Juan B. Colas wrote in his decision 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.

Passed in early 2011, Act 10 essentially eliminated collective bargaining rights of most public workers in Wisconsin.

The law also violates the constitutional equal protection clause because it creates separate classes of state workers who are treated differently and unequally under the law.

Polarizing the state’s political structure, the law has created controversy and protests that have drawn tens of thousands to Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol.

Outrage about the law led to an unsuccessful attempt in 2012 to recall Walker from office.

Union supporters were ecstatic about the decision. Gov. Walker immediately attacked the decision and the judge involved.

Wisconsin Governor Attacks Ruling

“Collective bargaining has been restored for teachers across Wisconsin, for municipal employees across Wisconsin,” Madison Teachers Inc. director John Matthews, whose union filed the suit with a Milwaukee Public employees union, said in The Nation. “We are back to where we were before Scott Walker moved to take away our rights.”

Gov. Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the immediate ramifications of the ruling were unclear and lawyers are still reviewing the decision.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

“We are confident today’s ruling will be overturned upon appeal,” Werwie told the State Journal.

Walker went on the attack in a statement, calling Colas a “liberal activist judge” who “wants to go backward and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the Legislature and the governor.”

“The people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5 [date of the recall election],” Walker said in the statement. “Now, they are ready to move on.”

Lester Pines, the attorney for the two unions that sued the state, told the State Journal that Walker and his allies “have no respect for the judiciary. The governor is attempting to systematically undermine respect for the courts,” he said, by implying political bias.

He said Walker should simply admit he lost despite having law firm Michael Best & Friedrich defend the law at a cost of $500,000, but Walker “doesn’t have the class to say ‘maybe I did something wrong.'”

Lester Pines

Lester Pines

“As we have said from day one, Scott Walker’s attempt to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin’s public sector was an immoral, unjust and illegal power grab,” Phil Neuenfeldt, the president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, said on the union’s blog. “Now, a court has ruled that the essential provisions of Act 10, Scott Walker’s draconian attack on public worker’s right to collectively bargain, is unconstitutional.”

A spokeswoman for Wisconsin’s attorney general, whose office led the defense of the law, told the State Journal that the decision is under review and an appeal is certain.

More than a year and half old, Wisconsin’s labor law war appears far from finished.

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