Unions Make Final Effort to Stop Wisconsin Labor Law

     MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - A coalition of Wisconsin unions sued Gov. Scott Walker in Federal Court, seeking to block implementation of the "Budget Repair Bill" as discriminatory.
     The seven unions, including teachers, health-care workers and city and county workers, say the anti-union law unconstitutionally treats their members as a "disfavored class."
     The complaint says the law is blatant political favoritism and punishment: "Employees in all of the labor organizations that endorsed Governor Walker have been classified under the Act as 'public safety' employees, exempt from the provisions that eliminate or restrict collective bargaining rights."
     The lawsuit came one day after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had not violated the state's open meetings law to pass the controversial bill - 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 - and the law could take effect.
     Wisconsin's Secretary of State now has 10 days to publish it; it should take effect, at the latest, on June 29.
     In their 29-page complaint, the unions say the "budget repair" moniker is a pretext: that the bill actually is a way for the Legislature's Republican majority to "achieve three permanent and fundamental changes to Wisconsin's decades-old system of labor relations in the public sector."
     First, it will "eliminate or reduce to a shell the existing collective bargaining rights of a disfavored class of state and municipal workers." Firefighters, law enforcement officers and public safety employees will not be affected by the bill; the unions say there is no rationale for dividing state employees by classes for the purpose of Gov. Walker's bill.
     Second, it will "make it prohibitively difficult for the disfavored class of employees, and only the disfavored class, to retain a union as their bargaining representative." Third, it will "weaken the ability of employees in the disfavored class, and only the disfavored class, to support financially their unions' activities, including, importantly, their First Amendment-protected political speech activities."
     Allowing other similarly situated employees to reap the benefits of union participation, but not the disfavored class, violates the First and 14th Amendments, the unions say.
     "Public safety employees" is a newly, and illegally, favored group in Gov. Walker's "favored class," the unions say. After stating that "Employees in all of the labor organizations that endorsed Governor Walker have been classified under the Act as 'public safety' employees, exempt from the provisions that eliminate or restrict collective bargaining rights," the unions get specific.
     The unions say the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA), which represents state troopers, did not endorse anyone in the gubernatorial election, but the lobbying group for state troopers, the Wisconsin Troopers Association (WTA) endorsed Walker.
     "The only protective service law enforcement constituencies of the WLEA that the Act exempts from its provisions restricting collective bargaining rights are those constituencies that are represented for lobbying purposes by the WTA - the entity that endorsed Governor Walker. Conversely, police constituencies in WLEA who are not represented by WTA, such as the Capitol Police, receive no exemption from those provisions; they are placed in the disfavored 'general' employee category even though they are sworn law enforcement officers in the protective service."
     Walker's now-famous Budget Repair Bill was introduced on Feb. 11. It makes far greater changes to collective-bargaining rights than it does to the state's budget deficit and resulted in a national uproar.
     All 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum.
     As many as 100,000 protesters a day - and some proponents of the bill - rallied at the Capitol beginning on Valentine's Day. But Republicans prevailed, pushing the bill through without a quorum in a special committee meeting, where the deal was sealed in a 17-second vote.
     After a closely contested election returned a Republican justice to the state supreme court, it ruled 4-3 this week that the law had been passed legally, and should not be thrown out, as Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi had ruled. Dane County is home to Madison, the state capital.
     The unions want the law's restrictions on collective bargaining enjoined. The bill makes it illegal for public employees unions to bargain collectively for anything but wages, and imposes other hurdles to union representation.
     The unions do not seek to kill the sections of the bill that will have their members pay more from their paychecks for pensions and health insurance.
     The bill allows all governmental bodies to require employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pension fund and 12.6 percent of their health insurance costs.
     The lead plaintiff is the Wisconsin Education Association Council, joined by the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, AFL-CIO; the Wisconsin Council of County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME Council 49, AFL-CIO; SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and others.
     The defendants are Gov. Walker, Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch, Director of the Office of State Employment Relations Greg Gracz, and the Chair and Commissioners of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. All are responsible for administering, implementing and enforcing the new law.
     The unions are represented by Timothy Hawks with the Hawks Quindel law firm, of Milwaukee, and by former Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager of Bauer & Bach, in Madison. Attorneys from the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Education Association are assisting.
     Several other lawsuits have challenged the bill, and more can be expected. And nine Senate recall elections - six Republican and three Democratic - are scheduled for July.
     The Republican Party of Wisconsin announced that "protest candidates," or phony Democrats, will run in the GOP recalls, to force a Democratic primary, which would push the Republican recalls back to August, giving the incumbents more time to campaign.
     Democrats denounced the spoiler candidates as another "dirty trick."
     Republicans control the Assembly, 59 seats to 38. There is one independent and one vacant seat. Republicans control the Senate 19-14.