Analysis: Wisconsin judge tosses anti-union law
By Dominique Paul Noth 22 September 2012
|MADISON, Wis. - Justice delayed is justice denied – or is it? Wisconsin workers were shocked into rethinking that old saw on Sept. 14 when Dane County Judge Juan Colas– 18 months after the pain -- threw out as unconstitutional Right Wing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, the evisceration of public worker collective bargaining rights.
|It was a long overdue affirmation to many that, whatever you think about unions and however you want to sideline your political enemies, you can’t crush the constitution like a bug to punish people.
But it’s almost a surreal moment reflecting the cynicism which we now regard our lumbering system. Finally, Wisconsin has found a judge looking at American principles as something to cherish rather than step around.
Walker’s law, which trashed collective bargaining rights and other worker protections for more than 200,000 state and local government workers, was the spearhead last year of a national drive by the Radical Right, its GOP allies and their big business puppeteers to eviscerate unions and destroy workers’ rights – along with political opposition to their radical agenda.
Simply put, Colas announced that a court has made Walker and the GOP legislative majority law-breakers, violating basic human rights including free speech, free association and equal protection.
But no parades. Not yet. The decision will be immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, whose majority is beholden to Right-Wing money and ideology. The justices rapidly aborted the thoughtful process in 2011 when a lower court judge questioned the legislative haste that pushed Walker’s law through. On Sept. 18, the GOP state attorney general started his push-back with a lower court appeal of Colas’ decision against Walker’s law.
This Sept. 14 ruling in its complexities still allows Walker continued sway over state workers. But it will really put the issue of shoveling manure rather than the spade work of true judicious deliberation squarely before the high court.
GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is not only trying to reinstate Walker’s law, but he’s simultaneously pressing the High Court to jump over lower courts and restore the Walker’s Voter ID law – for this November – too. Two state courts overturned that statute and it still faces federal challenges.
Dane County (Madison) Judge Colas in his summary ruling on Sept. 14 bluntly ruled the legislature overstepped constitutional bounds by going after city, county and school employees, creating separate classes of workers, union and non-union, merely to cap pay or elevate the employers’ muscle – without asking the employer or the public.
His ruling confirmed what many had been arguing: That picking between union and non-union and even among union workforces, as Walker’s law did, was unjust as well as unjustified. Act 10 retained full bargaining rights for most police and fire fighters while removing rights for other workers.
Colas said Act 10 also violated the “home rule” clause, interfering as with the city of Milwaukee’s voice in determining pension contributions. A Milwaukee city union and the Madison teachers union filed the case.
Much of Colas’ ruling parallels a prior ruling by a U.S. district court judge. That jurist invalidated Walker’s ban on union dues deduction and his mandate that unions must win annual recertification elections. Both are unconstitutional, that judge said. But Colas went further in declaring the Act 10 overreach on equal rights null and void.
In effect, Colas’ ruling made the maneuvers against unions outside state workers illegal. All those handbooks, refusals to work with unionized employees, all those arbitrary conditions imposed without bargaining by cities and school districts are all illegal. For now.
But hold the glee. There will not be a rush by unions to relitigate current local situations because the legalities are a mess and the appeals process is real and dangerous.
The public needs to turn immediately to a deeper reality: Elections matter. The only full correction is at the polls and then making sure those elected behave honorably.
If the Supreme Court reverses Colas’ ruling, that could represent another blatant benefit to the political party that helped elect the its GOP majority. If the justices find legal flaws worth weighing and deliberating over, that will take time.
Either way, the issue deals directly with whom we elect to that court -- and there is another election in April that could rectify the balance. More immediate are the decisions on Nov. 6. Walker didn’t pass Act 10. His slavish GOP minions did, and they should be shown the door for voting so willingly and knowingly against the state and federal constitutions.
Dominique Paul Noth is editor of Milwaukee Labor News.