Bloomberg News

Wisconsin Labor Law Should Be Blocked for Now, U.S. Judge Told

June 21, 2011

June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Wisconsin’s law limiting the collective bargaining rights of some government workers should be blocked by a federal judge, unions said.

The unions said yesterday in a court filing that allowing the law to take effect would irreparably harm workers because it will be impossible to reverse or remedy employment decisions if the court declares the law is unconstitutional. They asked a judge to block the law while their lawsuit is being considered.

Decisions “to terminate or lay off employees, reassign employees to different job duties or to different shifts, demote employees, deny promotions, eliminate and contract out jobs, or any of a myriad of other large and small job decisions, will either be irreversible or will require considerable ‘unscrambling the egg’ in the form of numerous workplace grievances once collective bargaining rights were restored,” according to the filing in federal court in Madison, Wisconsin.

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, who are exempt from the law, the unions representing teachers, health-care workers and other public workers, said in a complaint filed Feb. 15.

“We were expecting the filing,” said Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. “Whenever it is scheduled, we will be in court to defend the law.”

Earlier Ruling

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on June 14 rejected a county judge’s ruling invalidating the measure backed by Governor Scott Walker, 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.

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.

The case is Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Scott Walker, 11-00428, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison.)

--With assistance from Andrew Harris in Chicago and Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles. Editors: Michael Hytha, Glenn Holdcraft

To contact the reporter on this story: Marie Rohde in Madison, Wisconsin at fmarierohde@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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