On Friday, September 14, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled that substantial parts of Act 10, otherwise known as the contentious “Budget Repair Bill,” that largely eliminated the collective bargaining rights for most public employees in 2011, violates both the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions’ guarantees of free speech and freedom of association. In short, the judge held that the sections of the law that “encumber the rights” of those employees who choose to belong to a union solely because of that membership infringes upon those constitutional rights. Judge Colas also ruled that the law violated the constitutional equal protection clauses in creating these separate classes of employees without a sufficient justification. As such, the judge ruled significant parts of Act 10 null and void.
The decision in this lawsuit, which was brought a Madison teachers’ union and a Milwaukee public workers’ union, does not apply to state employees (who brought a separate challenge in federal court that is still under appeal) and does not apply to public safety employees, whose rights to bargain over health insurance were eliminated in Act 32, the 2011-2013 State Budget. As has been reported in this magazine and elsewhere, the WPPA is actively challenging the Act 32 changes impacting law enforcement officers in a variety of administrative and judicial forums all throughout the state.
While this latest court ruling effectively returns most of the rights that non-public safety unions had prior to the enactment of Act 10, as of the press deadline for this issue of the magazine, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had publicly indicated his intent to file a stay to prevent that from occurring until he files an appeal before either the Court of Appeals or the State Supreme Court. The WPPA expects the AG’s request for a stay to be granted, meaning that non-public safety unions will not be able to return to bargaining until all of these legal matters are settled by a higher court.