A federal appeals court has upheld a Wisconsin law curtailing the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions, including teachers’ unions.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, ruled this month in a challenge to the measure brought by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, an affiliate of the National Education Association, and several other public-employee unions in the state.
The court weighed Act 10, which was championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and passed in 2011 amid rancorous debates and protests. The law distinguishes between “general” public-employee unions (including teachers’ unions) and “public-safety” unions representing many law-enforcement personnel and firefighters.
In his opinion for the court, U.S. Circuit Judge Joel M. Flaum said the prohibition on payroll deductions does not limit the general unions’ speech and thus does not violate their First Amendment rights. The fact that the public safety unions may continue to use such deductions amounts to permissible state subsidization of their speech.
The practical effect of the 7th Circuit’s ruling is a bit unclear because in a separate challenge to the law in the state courts, a state judge ruled that Act 10 was unconstitutional because it burdened the First Amendment speech and associational rights of the general union members.
A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as Appeals Court Upholds Wis. Curb on Unions