Good news for Wisconsin public employees

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March 30 was a big day for Wisconsin public employees. That's the day a federal district court judge struck down two provisions of Wisconsin's 2011 anti-collective bargaining law. And it's also the day the state's Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to order recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators.

AFT-Wisconsin played a part in both. The state federation was party to the lawsuit challenging Act 10, and its members were instrumental in gathering the requisite signatures on petitions to trigger the recall elections. The Government Accountability Board ordered primary elections for May 8, with a June 5 general election date.

Judge William Conley struck down the provision in Act 10 that prohibits automatic payroll deduction of union dues for general employees. He also struck down the provision requiring annual, mandatory recertification of general employee unions by an absolute majority. Act 10 established two categories of public employees: general and public safety. The law retained the bargaining and other rights of public safety unions.

"So long as the state of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights," Conley wrote in a 39-page decision that sharply criticized the state for failing to articulate "a rational basis for picking and choosing from among public unions. 

Conley noted that by barring "the most efficient method by which these unions collect and their members pay dues," Act 10 "diminishes their speech—both general employees' ability to support their union financially, as well as the union's ability to fund its speech."

On the issue of mandatory annual recertification, the judge said that "the court would be remiss not to at least note the likely burden the annual recertification process imposed on members' speech and association rights."

AFT president Randi Weingarten says Conley's decision "is gratifying in that he found Gov. Walker's excessive overreach politically motivated and illegal. The ruling strikes down key provisions and serves as a strong rebuke to the governor."

AFT-Wisconsin president Bryan Kennedy says the "decision provides yet another reason to support the recalls against the governor, lieutenant governor and state senators who supported this egregious legislation. It is imperative, now more than ever, that we elect leaders who will fight for working families and not just for corporations and the wealthy." [Kathy Nicholson]

April 11, 2012