June 16 (Bloomberg) -- A group of Wisconsin state and municipal workers’ unions filed a federal lawsuit in a bid to block implementation of a bill backed by Governor Scott Walker curbing collective-bargaining rights.
The state law violates the U.S. constitution by creating a “disfavored” class of public employees and a “favored” class consisting of firefighters and law enforcement officials, the unions representing teachers, health-care workers and other public workers, said in a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in Madison.
“The distinctions the act makes between ‘public safety’ and other employees not only lack any rational connection to a legitimate governmental objective, they bear a remarkably close connection to the illegitimate objective of punishing the political opponents and rewarding the political supporters of the governor,” the unions said in the complaint.
The unions seek a court ruling that parts of the law are unconstitutional and an order preventing the state from implementing those parts.
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on June 14 rejected a county judge’s ruling invalidating the measure.
A first-term Republican, Walker signed the legislation on March 11. It requires annual recertification votes for public employees’ union representation and makes their payment of membership dues voluntary. Firefighters and police officers are exempt.
Under the law, state workers would contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health-insurance costs. Democrats and organized labor opposed the legislation as an attack on workers’ rights. Opponents protested inside and outside the state capitol for almost four weeks.
Fourteen Wisconsin Senate Democrats left the state Feb. 17 and spent more than three weeks in Illinois in an attempt to block the law by denying the chamber a quorum. Republicans were able to vote on collective bargaining after they stripped the bill of some fiscal measures allowing them by law to vote without the Democrats present.
Representatives of Walker didn’t immediately return a call to the governor’s press office after regular business hours yesterday.
The case is Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Scott Walker, 11-428, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison.)
--With assistance from Andrew Harris in Atlanta. Editors: Joe Schneider, Mary Romano
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