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Wisconsin’s right-to-work law goes on trial

By   /   February 25, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

MADISON, Wis. – Right-to-work goes on trial in Dane County on Thursday morning.

The Machinists Local Lodge 1061 at 10 a.m. is slated to argue its case in a Dane County court that Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, signed by Gov. Scott Walker last March, is unconstitutional. The union filed its original lawsuit one day after Walker signed the bill.

Local 1061, an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists District 10  and two other labor groups,  insist that the law requires unions to provide a service – workplace “representation” to nonunion workers without being compensated.

The local’s constitutional claims, however, ignore the fact that unions have the option to only bargain for their members and are not obligated to negotiate for employees who chosen not to join.

Watchdog.org file photo

RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE: Unions protest a right-to-work bill on the Capitol grounds in March 2015. The bill passed, was signed into law by Gov. Walker, but goes up on trial in Dane County on Thursday.

Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state, ending compulsory union dues in the state’s private-sector organized labor shops. Workers may now opt-out of paying union dues and many have.

Union membership in Wisconsin plummeted from 11.7 percent in 2014, to 8.3 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“These sums (dues) are the primary source of income for these organizations, without which they would be unable to fulfill their purposes of collective bargaining and the representation of employees, including nonmembers employees,” the unions’ lawsuit argues.

RELATED: After 12 hours of testimony, rancor remains in right-to-work debate

Right-to-work laws have been found to be within constitutional bounds in multiple challenges. In Indiana, the Supreme Court upheld the state’s right-to-work law, and that decision was upheld by a federal appeals court.

The Virgina-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty intervened on behalf of four nonunion employees in Wisconsin who were required to pay union dues as a condition of employment prior to the enactment of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.

Within days of seeking a temporary injunction against the, Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust rejected the request. 

“Irreparable harm is speculative,” the judge said of the unions’ claims.

“Wisconsin’s Right to Work law was a victory for workplace freedom, but union officials have never relinquished their forced-dues privileges without a fight,” Mark Mix, president of the foundation, said in a statement last year. “Fortunately, our staff attorneys have a great deal of experience defending state Right to Work laws in court.”


M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]