By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – A federal appeals court on Friday upheld Act 10, Wisconsin’s controversial reform law that guts collective bargaining for most public employees in the state.
The decision strikes a blow to public-sector unions that gained a temporary victory in September, when a Dane County Circuit Court Judge ruled parts of the law unconstitutional.
The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down key provisions of a separate federal court’s ruling, writing, “The district court invalidated Act 10’s recertification and payroll deduction provisions, but upheld the statute’s limitation on collective bargaining. We now uphold Act 10 in its entirety.”
Act 10, led by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, limits wage negotiations to the rate of inflation, ending negotiations on benefits. It also prohibits public-sector employers from automatically deducting wages for union dues and forces public-sector unions to annually hold recertification votes.
“Today’s court ruling is a victory for Wisconsin taxpayers,” Walker said in a statement. “The provisions contained in Act 10, which have been upheld in federal court, were vital in balancing Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without increasing taxes, without massive public employee layoffs, and without cuts to programs like Medicaid.
“With this ruling behind us, we can now focus on the next state budget, which will invest in priorities to move our state forward.”
Act 10 has saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 billion since it went into effect in July 2011.
“Act 10 exhibits a rational belief that public sector unions are too costly for the state. The recertification process furthers this interest by imposing a recertification burden that impacts unions’ influence over employees who are less passionate about union representation,” the Court writes.
Democrats, not surprisingly, stood with the court’s dissenting opinion that Act 10 may have been politically motivated and inherently unfair in its requirement to end automatic union dues for most public union employees, but not for all.
“Given the recent focus on bipartisanship, now would be a good opportunity to move away from positions the court acknowledges are likely favoritism and punishment,” said Assembly minority leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a statement. “We must find real solutions the Wisconsin way of sitting down together and rolling up our sleeves to tackle problems with all stakeholders to repair some of the damage that has been done by this law. We are not a state that should have laws in place to settle partisan vendettas.”
Mary Bell, head of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said the court’s decision marks a setback for WEAC.
“(B)ut the fact of the matter is that our members will not give up on their commitment to restoring their rights to negotiate for fair wages and safe working conditions,” she said, adding that WEAC is in the process of reviewing the appeals court decision to “determine the impact of this ruling and the organization’s next steps.”
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas’ ruling last year is not affected by the decision and will be heard by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
“While the decision today upholds Act 10 in its entirety, an injunction is still in place as a result of the Judge Colas decision regarding Act 10; however the decision handed down today is a compelling argument for that injunction either to be lifted or stayed,” wrote Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice.
Contact Ekvall at [email protected]