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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Called-Off Union Elections Draw Suit in Wis.

MILWAUKEE (CN) - Unions for Wisconsin public servants filed three complaints against Act 10-related provisions that will keep their workers unrepresented this year.

The Wisconsin Association of State Prosecutors and Local 150 of the Service Employees International Union filed their lawsuits Thursday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, challenging the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission's refusal to hold union elections.

The unions have in the past represented the state's assistant district attorneys, custodians in the St. Francis School District, and building-service helpers and food-service workers for Milwaukee Public Schools.

According to the complaints, the unions filed their petitions for recertification as employee representatives after business hours on the filing deadline, Sept. 15. The filing fee was submitted the following day.

Just as it has done in similar cases, the commission stuck to its deadline and denied review of the petition, repeating the decision on appeal, according to the complaint and commission decisions. As a result, the employee groups will be unrepresented for a year.

Typically, after a petition is timely filed, the commission holds an election to determine whether the employees want to continue with their current representation or make a change, either to another union or to being unrepresented.

Peter Davis, the Employment Relations Commission's chief legal counsel, said every public union has been required since 2011 to file these petitions if they want to continue to represent their employees.

Both unions sued the commission separately in November 2014 as well, challenging the administrative code that dictates petition and election requirements.

They had timely filed in the past, and gone through successful re-election, filing the November lawsuits after hearing that they would likely be denied this year.

The commission moved on Dec. 31 to have those cases consolidated since they involve the same unions and employees, and are pending before separate Milwaukee County Circuit Court judges.

The unions argue state law only requires a petition when "a question arises" as to representation.

"A 'question concerning representation' only occurs where a union seeks to represent a new bargaining unit or where a rival union seeks to replace an existing union as bargaining representative," the 2014 complaints state.

Their new complaints note that state labor laws require an election regardless of whether a petition was filed. This overrides the administrative code setting deadlines and requiring a petition.

Davis said the commission set a deadline, of which all unions are aware, and have chosen to stick firmly to it.

"Our view is we needed and do need a reasonable timeframe to get the ducks in a row," Davis said in an interview.

Exceptions to the deadline could create a "slippery slope," the attorney added.

Emphasizing that the employees in these cases still have other protections through the civil-service system, Davis said they would gain only a single bargaining power if they were represented.

"Unions these days, in the public sector, all you get to bargain about is base wages, so in fact potentially what they lost was the right to bargain about their base wages, that would be for a year, and then they can regain that status if they choose to, a year from now," Davis said.

Some unions have elected not to continue representation, Davis said, because they decide this scant benefit is not worth going through the bargaining process. Thus, the petition process is the opportunity for a union to bow out by not filing.

Nathan Eisenberg with the Previant Law Firm represents the unions. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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