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Wisconsin bargaining law reinstated, at least for now

September 17, 2012

A Dane County judge, Juan Colas, ruled late Friday, September 14, that Governor Walker and the State of Wisconsin violated the state and federal constitutions in the enactment of various provisions of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. Act 10, enacted last year amidst considerable controversy, stripped most public employees of the right to collectively bargain on most matters other than adjustments to base wages. See our prior posts regarding Wisconsin public sector bargaining and Act 10.

Judge Colas granted summary judgment to the plaintiff in the lawsuit, Madison Teachers, Inc., a labor union repesenting employees of the Madison Metropolitan School District, and Public Employees Local 61, a labor union representing certain employees of the City of Milwaukee Judge Colas found that the plaintiffs had established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that certain provisions of Act 10 violated the constitutional right of free speech and association guaranteed by the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions. Judge Colas also found that because the law treats similarly situated classes of workers unequally, Act 10 violated the equal protection law of the United States Constitution. Judge Colas found that the defendants failed to justify the infringement of these constitutional rights.

 The ruling by Judge Colas, while recognizing that there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining, stuck down as “null and void” parts of Act 10 that:

  • Prohibit municipal employers from collectively bargaining with general employee unions on any subject but adjustments to base wages.
  • Require a referendum for wage adjustments above the cost of living for represented municipal and school district employees.
  • Bar fair share agreements for general employee unions.
  • Prohibit payroll deduction of dues for general employee unions.
  • Impose certification and recertification election requirements on general municipal employees.

federal court previously struck down the certification requirement and the prohibition on collecting dues contained in Act 10.

Municipalities are scrambling on what to do now and how the decision will impact the policies they have developed to address employee relations in the post-Act 10 world. An appeal in this case is certain, and it is evident that Judge Colas will not have the last word on Act 10. The defendants have indicated that they will ask Judge Colas, and perhaps appellate courts, to stay the decision pending appeal. 

Municipalities should continue to monitor the case as it unfolds this week. The appropriate response to the ruling may become more apparent later this week. More information will be posted as it becomes available.


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