The Corner

Wisconsin Supreme Court Debates Walker’s Union Law

In 2011, when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees, the state erupted in a cacophonic tantrum. But now, as Walker’s plan works its way through local and state court systems, the din has become a hush.

Yesterday, the state supreme court heard arguments in deciding whether to issue a stay against a lower court ruling that invalidated Walker’s plan. In 2012, Circuit Court judge Juan Colas of Dane County (the county surrounding notoriously liberal Madison) determined Walker’s plan was unconstitutional. Colas ruled that the plan violated workers’ rights to free speech, free association, and equal representation because it capped union workers’ pay, but not those who were unrepresented.

Yet Colas did not issue an injunction blocking the state Employment Relations Commission from implementing the law, leaving it unclear as to whether the law was still in place or not. Some local governments have refused to negotiate with unions, considering them to be decertified. Others have continued to bargain with public-sector unions as if the law were never passed.

The hearing in the Supreme Court yesterday, then, was to determine whether to stay Colas’s ruling, which would provide clarity for the state and local governments. Issuing a stay against Colas would allow local governments to move ahead with certification elections for unions — elections that, now that government employees aren’t required to be in unions, would most likely see certification voted down. (Also at issue is Colas’s ruling in which he found two state employment-relations commissioners in contempt of court for moving ahead with state certification elections.)

If the court issues an emergency stay, it could be in effect immediately. The court is expected to rule on the merits of Colas’s overall ruling in the summer. Currently, the court is split 4–3 in favor of conservatives, and has already upheld Walker’s law on procedural grounds.

— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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