Two Court Challenges to Wisconsin Union Limits Fail

Published October 8, 2013

Wisconsin’s limits on collective bargaining for public employees have survived another lawsuit.

“Of the eight total challenges to Act 10, six have been victories” and the other two await rulings, noted Tom Evenson, Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) spokesman. U.S. District Court Judge Conley threw out a lawsuit challenging the law in September.

A few days later, Dane County Judge Juan Colas, who ruled certain provisions of the bill unconstitutional in 2012 on freedom of speech and association grounds, denied Madison Teacher Inc.’s request for a hold against Act 10 while its case awaits appeal. The request “conflates the right to organize with collective bargaining” said Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Esenberg said he thinks the state Supreme Court will eventually reverse Colas’ 2012 decision. Unlike freedom of association, “the statutorily conferred privilege to choose to bargain collectively … is not constitutionally protected,” and a state may decide to limit or even withdraw it entirely, he said. Conley “did not confuse the two” and, as a result, rejected the very claim Colas accepted in his ruling.

To the Supreme Court
“Colas’s ruling will most likely be overturned, delivering a victory to the taxpayers and to the state of Wisconsin,” agreed Christian D’Andrea, an education policy analyst at the MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin-based think tank that promotes free markets and limited government.

Despite the Colas ruling, it is becoming increasingly likely Act 10 will remain law in Wisconsin, two years after unprecedented demonstrations against it rocked the state’s capital and the nation, leading to a series of recall elections against Wisconsin officials. Those also largely failed.

Consequences for Wisconsin
The court’s rulings, if they stand, will likely cause a decrease in union membership, in some cases by more than 50 percent, savings of tens of millions of dollars for Milwaukee every year, the end of a monopolistic health insurance system for school districts, and a lower student-to-teacher ratio in public schools.

The reduction in union membership will result from Act 10’s requirement that all workers vote every year to remain unionized, not just those who chose to vote, as before. The law also prohibits unions from directly deducting dues from employee paychecks. As a result, employees who opt out of union membership don’t have to pay dues. As to healthcare savings, Milwaukee will save millions because beneficiaries must now contribute 12 percent to their health care costs, which tripled their contributions.

For example, before lawmakers passed Act 10 in 2010, Kaukauna School District was contractually compelled to provide employees with health insurance exclusively through WEA Trust, a company created by the Wisconsin teachers union, which charged above-market rates. This is no longer required of Kaukana and the state’s other districts.

In addition, Kaukana can now extend teachers’ work week to 40 hours from 37, which has decreased class sizes from 31 to 26 students per teacher.


Image by Clyde Robinson.