The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Act 10, which ended collective bargaining for general public union members, is constitutional. The collective bargaining provisions of Act 10 led to massive protests by union members that consumed the state house in Madison for several weeks in February and March 2011, as well as the unsuccessful recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker the following year.
Justice Michael Gableman wrote the 5–2 decision, which stated collective bargaining is not a fundamental constitutional right under the First Amendment but rather “a creation of legislative grace.”
The late Maureen Martin wrote about Act 10 from a budget perspective in the May 2012 Heartland Institute Policy Brief “Wisconsin’s Act 10: A Partial Fix for the State Budget Deficit.” Martin wrote: “The eyes of the nation were on Wisconsin. Opponents of the bill predicted the law would have dire consequences for educational quality: fewer teachers, larger class sizes, program cuts, and worse. According to early results, however, in all but a handful of districts the dire predictions have not come true. All evidence points to schools functioning normally. Many districts have balanced their budgets for the first time in years. Some even have surpluses and are hiring more teachers and reducing class size.”
Martin died in a fire in her home in February 2013.
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“Understanding this decision, as the court itself noted, ‘demands clarity on what precisely is before the court.’ It does not say that government employees may not unionize; it does not say that union workers cannot petition their government for redress of grievances; it is not an assault on the rights of free speech or free association. As a matter of statutory construction and separation of powers, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was and is obliged to uphold Wisconsin’s Act 10 ‘if any rational basis can be found for the contested provisions,’ so long as the Act did not infringe on the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights.
“What the Wisconsin Supreme Court has now said, 5–2, is that the people of Wisconsin, speaking through their legislature, may limit the collective bargaining ability of municipal employees other than public safety employees to the issue of base wages (as opposed to health care, retirement, and other benefits); may prohibit municipal employers from deducting labor organization dues from paychecks of such ‘general’ employees against their will; may require annual recertification of municipal employees’ unions; and may permit general employees to decline to contribute to labor organizations that do not represent them.
“Wisconsin’s labor unions will be unhappy, but the taxpayers of Wisconsin should rejoice and the people of surrounding states – and their legislatures – should take note.”
“I applaud the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Act 10. The court correctly affirmed that collective bargaining privileges were granted by the legislature and are not a constitutionally protected right.
“While Act 10 was an important step in reining in out-of-control state spending, more needs to be done to bring public-sector employment in line with private-sector employment. I urge Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin legislature to continue bold action to reduce government spending and limit the tax burden in Wisconsin.”
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