By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Dan Thompson says he’s seen a lot of frightening headlines since Dane County Judge Juan Colas struck down key provisions in Act 10 last week.
Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said it’s a lot of Chicken Little — and the sky is not falling.
“Most of those headlines were somewhat more frightening than they needed to be,” he said.
“Management is still essentially in the driver’s seat.”
Thompson, whose organization represents Wisconsin’s cities and villages, said there has been a lot of misinformation about the ruling.
While he said the decision was an “important victory” for unions, it upheld the one thing Wisconsin’s municipalities wanted most of all: a prohibition on interest arbitration.
When union and management can’t resolve their differences on a contract, the dispute is taken to an impartial arbitrator for final resolution. The process, Thompson said, has cost municipalities big over the years, adding as much as an estimated 5 percent more to labor contracts. Nixing interest arbitration was the one point on which the League had most ardently lobbied Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature.
Colas’ decision does toss out four main provisions of the collective-bargaining law:
1. Prohibiting collective bargaining on anything except total base wages up to the Consumer Price Index.
2. Requiring a referendum for wage increases beyond CPI.
3. Imposing certain certification and recertification requirements on general municipal employee unions.
4. Limiting “fair share” dues agreements to public safety and transit unions.
While cities and villages would have to again negotiate for wages and benefits, Thompson said the lack of arbitration will rein in increases.
“(Compensation) is now the subject of bargaining and that’s fine. We’re happy to bargain with employees over that. If we can’t agree on an appropriate wage increase, once an impasse is reached we have the right to implement the last best offer,” he said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee Workers Council 24 celebrated the ruling.
“While the decision was limited in scope to local and municipal employees, the laws that were struck down are virtually identical to the laws affecting employees of the state,” noted a statement on the union’s website.
AFSCME filed a lawsuit last year asserting the Republican-controlled Legislature violated the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. The suit argued that citizens were denied proper notice of the vote on the bill, and were denied access to the State Capitol and its legislative chambers during the votes.
A Dane County judge agreed, but Walker appealed to the state Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision on a narrow 4-3 vote.
Colas’ ruling mainly relies on the Equal Protection Clause, which Thompson believes will be difficult to defend on appeal.
Thompson, who formerly worked in municipal law, said an earlier federal ruling by Judge William Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, has a much better chance of standing because it makes compelling arguments about the Free Speech rights of organized labor, asserting those rights were abridged through some of Act 10′s provisions.
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