Judge Invalidates Most of Wisconsin Anti-Union Law

By Mark Walsh — September 15, 2012 2 min read
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A state judge has struck down key provisions of the 2011 Wisconsin law that curtailed the collective-bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees.

Judge Juan B. Colas of Dane County Circuit Court in Madison ruled Friday that the anti-union law championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker violates the free speech and association rights of public employees under the state and federal constitutions. The law passed amid a tumultuous legislative special session, and unions later helped force a recall election for Walker, which the governor survived.

Colas ruled in a challenge brought by Madison Teachers Inc., an affiliate of the National Education Association representing teachers and other school employees in the Madison district, as well as by a Milwaukee municipal employees’ union.

The unions challenged the key provisions of the Wisconsin law, such as ones that prohibit municipal and school employers from offering union-represented workers a base wage increase greater than the cost of living, bargaining on issues other than wages, entering into “fair share” agreements covering employees who refuse to join the union, and deducting union dues from government paychecks.

The lawsuit also challenged the statute’s burdensome annual recertification procedures for the public-employee unions.

Colas ruled that the law’s provisions burden the free speech and associational rights of the unions and their members.

“The state has imposed significant and burdensome restrictions on employees who choose to associate in a labor organization,” Judge Colas said in his Sept. 14 opinion in Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker.

The state statutes, he added, “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.”

The state offered no evidence or argument that the infringements on these fundamental rights were justified to prevent a “substantial evil,” the judge said, and thus the state law could not stand.

Gov. Walker, in a written statement, said the people of Wisconsin “clearly spoke” on June 5, the date of his recall election victory, but “sadly, a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backwards and take away the law-making responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”

In April, a federal district judge in Madison upheld some of the law’s provisions, such as the limitation of collective bargaining to wage issues. But he struck down the provisions requiring annual recertification and barring the withholding of union dues from paychecks. I blogged here on that decision, which is under appeal.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports on the decision here.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.