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Judge Conley’s public sector bargaining decision

April 24, 2012

Last month, federal Judge William Conley invalidated several provisions of Wisconsin’s Act 10, the law limiting collective bargaining rights for public employees enacted in Wisconsin in March 2011.  As might be expected, both the proponents and opponents of the law claimed victory. The decision will likely add fuel to the June 5 gubernatorial recall election ordered by Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB).

In his ruling, Judge Conley took issue with two parts of the revised collective bargaining law. He struck down the provision that requires some public sector unions, for the most part school and general employees (though not public safety unions), to hold annual votes by members to remain as the certified representative for the employees. He also invalidated a provision that bars the state and local governments from withholding a worker’s union dues even if the member authorized the deduction. These provisions have been described as key to the survival of Wisconsin’s public sector labor movement.

The basis for the decision was in the differential treatment afforded to the public safety unions who were not subject to either the annual recertification or the prohibition concerning dues deduction. Judge Conley found no rational basis for the distinction.

The decision did not invalidate other limitations contained in the year old law, such as the change that severely curtailed the subjects over which a Wisconsin public employer and a public sector union can bargain.

Both sides will most certainly consider an appeal of this decision as the political battles heat up in Wisconsin.

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