MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – A law stripping public employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights took effect in Wisconsin Wednesday after its February introduction by Gov. Scott Walker, ostensibly to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
The bill was tied up in court for months amid a series of protests, upcoming recall elections and a possible physical altercation between Supreme Court justices. On Tuesday, however, Secretary of State Doug La Follette officially published the bill in the Wisconsin State Journal, allowing it to take effect the following day.
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled, 4-3, that Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi overstepped her authority in declaring the bill void.
Walker’s controversial Budget Repair Bill has caused a national uproar since its introduction, with challengers noting that the legislation makes far greater changes to collective-bargaining rights than it does to the state’s budget deficit.
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 – have rallied at the state Capitol since Valentine’s Day. Republicans eventually prevailed, pushing the bill through without a quorum in a special committee meeting that sealed the deal in a 17-second vote.
Opponents have accused Republicans of not giving the public proper notice about the joint committee of conference, and Judge Sumi agreed that the vote was a clear violation of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law.
The Supreme Court, which holds a 4-3 conservative majority, overturned that decision quickly, with threats by the Republicans in the Assembly to add collective-bargaining limits to the state budget if the justices upheld Sumi’s decision.
Walker’s bill has also caused turmoil at the judicial level. Police are now investigating reports that recent re-elect Justice David Prosser put a chokehold on fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley while the two argued about the decision. Other sources claim Bradley charged Prosser, and he was simply defending himself.
The new law makes it illegal for public employees unions to bargain collectively for anything but wages, though there are exemptions for police and firefighters. It also imposes hurdles to union representation, bars the automatic collection of union dues from employees’ paychecks and requires public employee unions to win certification elections every year with at least one vote more over 50 percent of all eligible employees – not just those participating in the election.
All governmental bodies must now require employees to pay 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pension fund and 12.6 percent of their health insurance costs.
Union supporters have publicly vowed to recall Walker next year, complaining that the governor’s election platform did not emphasize a plan to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. There is a one-year grace period before elected officials are eligible for recall.
Nine other state Senate recalls – targeting six Republican incumbents and three Democrats – are scheduled for July.