WI’s Walker Wins Legal Round, Future of Act 10 Still Uncertain

Wisconsin’s Act 10, the controversial law enacted by Governor Scott Walker that severely curtailed the collective bargaining rights of public employees, survived a major test last week when the 3-member Federal Appeals court overturned the lower court ruling and upheld the law in its entirety.

The ruling is a setback for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and other unions – the groups that brought the original lawsuit. Late last year, a decision by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley largely gave the legislation a pass, barring a number of provisions including the one that prohibited withholding of union dues from paychecks and the requirement that unions re-certify every year.

Walker called the ruling a victory for Wisconsin taxpayers, saying that freeing the state from undue influence by unions allowed the balancing of the budget without mass layoffs, program cuts or tax hikes.

WEAC President Mary Bell expressed disappointment with the decision.

“What is so abundantly clear is that Act 10 was never about addressing the fiscal needs of the state but instead a ploy to eliminate workers’ rights to have a voice through their union – political payback for citizens who didn’t endorse the governor,” Bell said in a statement. ”

This marks a setback, but the fact of the matter is that our members will not give up on their commitment to restoring their rights to negotiate for fair wages and safe working conditions.”

The legislation had a rocky history. It was introduced by Walker shortly after he took office in 2011 and generated protests from public union members unprecedented in scale and duration. In an unsuccessful attempt to halt the law’s passage, several Democratic lawmakers left the state to deny the Legislature the quorum needed to vote on the bill. Although the law ultimately passed, their flight ground legislative business to a halt for nearly 3 weeks.

The law spared state troopers, firefighters and most police officers from many of the changes. Democrats called that political payback for groups that supported Walker in the 2010 governor’s race.

The unions sued in federal court in Madison, arguing the law violated the free-speech and equal-protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Conley upheld much of Act 10, but invalidated the provisions on recertification and dues deduction.

Both sides appealed the decision, and on Friday the court said the entire law was constitutional.

Although Governor Walker won this round, it still doesn’t make the future of Act 10 certain. The unions now have the option to request a rehearing in front of the entire Seventh Circuit Court to review to decision, or skip that step and attempt a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition, a number of other cases dealing with Act 10 are now making their way through the court and the panel’s ruling has no bearing on those cases.