Wisconsin Anti-Worker Law Struck Down
by Stephen Lendman
It happened last year as well. On May 27, 2011, Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi rescinded Walker’s bill. In a 33-page decision, she ruled Republican lawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law.
On March 18, she placed it on temporary hold. Victory was short-lived. Republican lawmakers immediately appealed to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. They urged a prompt ruling. They faced a June 30 budget deadline.
They warned without prompt resolution they’d include anti-worker provisions in the budget bill. They practically intimidated the High Court to accommodate them.
It didn’t disappoint. On June 14, the Supreme Court ruled 4 – 3 for reinstatement. They claimed legislators weren’t subject to state open meeting law provisions. As such, they acted lawfully.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson disagreed. She rebuked her colleagues sharply. She accused them of judicial errors and faulty judgment, saying:
The Court unjustifiably “reached a predetermined conclusion not based on the fact(s) and the law, which undermines the majority’s ultimate decision.”
Majority justices, in fact, “make their own findings of fact, mischaracterize the parties’ arguments, misinterpret statutes, minimize (if not eliminate) Wisconsin constitutional guarantees, and misstate case law, appearing to silently overrule case law dating back to at least 1891.”
Republicans praised the decision. Democrats said they’d amend state constitutional provisions to assure meetings law enforcement. Doing so could take years. They’d also have to regain majority rule.
In March 2011, a protracted Senate battle ended when hard-line Republicans violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law. It requires 24 hours prior notice for special sessions unless giving it is impossible or impractical.
The epic battle ended along party lines after State Assembly members passed Walker’s bill 53 – 42. It followed the Senate voting 18 – 1 with no debate. The measure read in part:
“This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit-down, stay-in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls.”
“Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes just cause for discharge.”
In addition, the governor may unilaterally declare “state of emergency” authority to fire striking workers. Under the section titled “Discharge of State Employees:”
He “may issue an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the state or any portion of the state if he or she determines that an emergency resulting from a disaster or imminent threat of a disaster exists.”
In other words, he can unilaterally do what he wants. Public worker rights and job security are null and void.
Walker’s bill was old-fashioned union busting. State and local governments were prohibited from bargaining with public workers on anything besides cost of living pay adjustments. Healthcare, pensions, workplace safety, and other issues were off limits.
Brazen politicians and corrupt union bosses conspire regularly to sell out rank-and-file members for benefits they derive at their expense.
It’s commonplace across America. Chicago is its latest epicenter. Teachers hoped to save public education, their jobs, rights, and futures for city kids. School authorities and union bosses sold them out. Rank-and-file members lost out to bottom line priorities mattering most.
What happened in Wisconsin in May 2011 repeated in new form. On September 14, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headlined “Judge throws out Walker’s union bargaining law,” saying:
Dane County Judge Juan Colas returned his law “to its status before” enactment in March 2011. He ruled it violated constitutional free speech, association, and equal representation rights. It did so by capping worker raises but not those of nonunion counterparts.
He also said it violated Wisconsin’s “home rule” law. It did so by illegally setting Milwaukee’s pension contributions. City authorities alone have that authority in negotiations with workers.
In his ruling, Judge Colas said:
Sections of the law “single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions.”
He also said the law violates the equal protection clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and unequally.
His ruling applies to all affected public workers. They include teachers as well as city and county employees. Excluded are state ones.
They weren’t party to the lawsuit. Unions representing Madison teachers and Milwaukee public workers filed it.
Walker said said he’ll immediately appeal. He called Judge Colas a “liberal activist (who) wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”
Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck called the law constitutional. Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen said the same thing. What else would they say.
Unions declared victory. According to Madison teachers union attorney Lester Pines:
“The decision essentially creates the (2011) status quo for municipal employees and school district employees because it declared the essential provisions of Act 10 to be unconstitutional.”
Act 10 is Walker’s law. Pines expects litigation to remain ongoing. He’s “confident that this law is unconstitutional and will remain” so.
In other words, he’s saying they can renegotiate for rights Walker annulled. He, in turn, may seek a stay pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.
At this point, everything’s up for grabs. If Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upholds Colas, it’s back to square one. Significant changes in pay, benefits and work rules will be null and void. If so, it’s a major worker victory. Achieving it is by no means assured.
Both parties and labor unions support social cuts in Wisconsin and across America. They long ago capitulated to wealth and power interests. They lost their souls in the process.
Democracy in America is none at all. Sham and sellout substitute for standing tall for what’s right. Last year, Wisconsin unions and corrupt politicians showed why. Now it’s the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Worker rights are fast disappearing.
CTU officials agreed to a Chicago Versailles. So did Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and NEA-affiliated Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC).
It doesn’t surprise. It’s de rigueur across America. Workers have been ill represented for decades.
Wisconsin union bosses agreed to all Walker cuts provided he maintained the automatic dues check-off. It pays their high salaries. They added a sweetener to persuade him. They agreed to end anti-Republican opposition.
Democrats are no different. They support anti-worker measures provided what’s done doesn’t undermine union support. Double-dealing duplicity leaves workers high and dry on their own. Conditions in America grow grimmer. It’s no fit place to live in.
Occasional pro-worker lower court rulings change nothing. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is conservative. Odds are it’ll support Walker like last year.
Surprises are always possible. Don’t bet on them. Workers have been marginalized for decades. Hope still springs eternal.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Janine Geske calling issues at stake now “much more fundamental” than last year.
At that time, process was contested, not constitutional rights. “Can you treat non-represented employees differently than employees represented by a union,” she asked? “That impacts school boards all over the state.”
As a result, perhaps the High Court will surprise, she believes. “I do think you could have a very different decision because the issues are very different,” she said. “Yes, I think it’s going to be a split on the court, but you never know.”
“All you need is one justice to look at it differently to have a different result.”
Law Professor Paul Secunda believes otherwise, saying:
“It wouldn’t be too surprising if this decision were to face a frosty reception from the conservatives on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. This is not a court that instills a great deal of faith in people who want to see a nonpartisan, deliberative process take place.”
Act 10 is further complicated by last March’s federal ruling. It annulled portions of the law. Walker appealed. On September 24, the case will be argued before the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Pines believes even if unions lose, Colas’ ruling won’t be affected. It’s because both cases deal with different issues.
For now, protracted fighting over Act 10 continues. Eighteen months after its enactment, it’s not clear when resolution will be achieved. According to Secunda:
“It could be resolved within the next couple of months or” could drag on for years. “I don’t see the end anywhere in sight.”
In the meantime, worker rights erosion continues unabated. Bipartisan complicity assures it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.