Judge Strikes down WI Union Law

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas struck down Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s legislation on Friday that gutted collective bargaining rights for most employees.

According to the Associated Press,

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law violates both the state and U.S. Constitution and is null and void.

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In his 27-page ruling, the judge said 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.”

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Colas also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.

The ruling applies to all local public workers affected by the law, including teachers and city and county government employees, but not those who work for the state. They were not a party to the lawsuit, which was brought by a Madison teachers union and a Milwaukee public workers union.

The Walker administration has vowed to appeal the ruling. Unions declared a victory in the ruling thinking that they could negotiate again, but Walker could still keep the law in effect as the administration seeks its appeal.

Walker issued a statement on Friday in which he said the judge was a “liberal activist.” In his statement he said,

“The people of Wisconsin clearly spoke on June 5th. Now, they are ready to move on. Sadly, a liberal activist judge in Dane County wants to go backward and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the Legislature and the governor.”

In the decision, Colas noted:

that the law limited union workers to cost-of-living salary increases through bargaining while other employees were free to seek larger raises. Colas said the state lacked a reasonable basis for making that distinction.

Colas also noted that the law grouped workers into different classes, since local police and firefighters kept all their bargaining rights under the law but other workers did not. In making these distinctions, the law ultimately infringed on workers’ rights to associate with one another freely and to be treated the same way under the law, the judge found.

The home rule section of the constitution states that the state can only pass laws that uniformly affect cities and villages. Colas found that the law violated that part of the constitution by prohibiting the City of Milwaukee from paying the employees’ share of their pension contributions.

Colas ruled against the plaintiffs on two of their claims, saying that Act 10 did not violate the constitution provisions on special legislative sessions and did not violate a prohibition against taking property without due process.

Until the appeal is ruled on, it seems that the law will remain largely in force for state workers, but not for city, county and school workers.

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