By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission faces a tall task once Gov. Scott Walker's new collective bargaining law, which is mired in legal dispute, takes effect.
The new law, 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, provides for changes to collective bargaining procedures and how unions are organized. Walker has said in recent weeks that the collective bargaining changes would give state and local government officials flexibility and cost savings during a difficult budget time.
One process that is revised under Act 10 is the union election process for public employees. Now, WERC administers elections for groups of state or local employees who want to opt into union representation, change collective bargaining units, or retract union representation.
The new law would require state and local employees to participate in annual elections to determine if they wish to maintain union membership.
State employee groups, currently without a contract, would have to have elections by April, while municipal employee groups whose contracts expire would have elections by May or December, depending on their group classification.
In February, shortly after the governor announced the proposed legislation, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which administers union certification elections, wrote a letter to the Walker administration to shed light on logistical difficulties.
Peter Davis, WERC general counsel, said his agency of about 20 employees could not administer and process election returns for 17 state employee union groups and dozens of local union groups in a matter of 60 days.
"These employee groups are scattered geographically so we've done this by mail-in ballots, which is much like the absentee ballot process (for political elections)," he said. "There's a certain lag time, and there is the process of assembling addresses, printing ballots, making sure our voters are squared away."
Davis said WERC also would need time to consider phone-in or online voting options and create a new union election process through administrative rules.
The Department of Administration, which has taken point on the implementation of Walker's collective bargaining law, did not return messages seeking comment.
Paul Secunda, a labor law professor at Marquette University, said the election threshold could put unions at disadvantage.
For the annual elections, a union would be re-certified as a a collective bargaining unit if it received 51 percent support from the public employee union's membership, which means turnout would be crucial in each annual election.
"Even if a union can win one of these re-certification elections, it's going to be very difficult for groups to continue winning re-certification," he said.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels issued an executive order when he first took office in 2005 that instituted wage freezes and limited collective bargaining provisions for Indiana state employees.
David Warrick, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 62 for Indiana and Kentucky, said he lost 85 percent to 90 percent of dues-paying members as a result of the change, many within the first week of Daniels' order.
Davis said WERC has begun preparations for administering union elections statewide, but has held off on any official action until the courts provide guidance over the validity of Act 10.
On Thursday morning, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a revised order halting any implementation of the new law.
The DOA issued a statement soon after stating it would hold off on any further implementation. The state Department of Justice questioned whether the order from local judge Sumi was "appropriate" on state action.
"Ultimately, we expect a higher court will need to weigh in on the fundamental issues of constitutional law and judicial power that these proceedings have put to the test,” the DOJ said in a statement.
For more information on WERC election forms and procedures: