National education and labor news

Battle over union rights in Wisconsin being fought in court

The battle over union rights in Wisconsin has moved into the legal arena. Legal experts are watching closely since so little case law exists to address legislation that targets the bargaining powers of public-sector unions.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the anti-union legislation, named Act 10, into law in March 2011. Protesters claimed that the limitations on public-sector unions (except police and fire) were a political maneuver to weaken union power. Gov. Walker framed his efforts as a way to rein in state spending.

In September, Dane County Judge Juan Colas ruled that the law violates both the state and federal constitutional rights of workers to free speech, free association, and equal representation under the law. Central to Colas’s decision is how he perceived Act 10 to treat two sets of public-sector workers differently: Although Act 10 addresses educators and public-safety workers, it has no effect on nonunionized workers, such as municipal clerks or courtroom employees.

A separate lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Education Association is being filed this fall at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. That case explores whether Act 10 violates First Amendment and equal-protection rights — but only connected to its requirements that members recertify a union’s right to organize each year and that the unions can’t automatically deduct dues from worker paychecks.

U.S. District Judge William Conley struck down both provisions to Act 10 in March.

Meanwhile, some unions are anxious to renegotiate contracts before the Colas ruling is potentially blocked by a higher court. For example, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association is requesting that the city’s public-school system engage in collective bargaining for three of its units whose contracts expired in June. The union also wants bargaining to start this fall for its teachers contract, which ends next June.

Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 24

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