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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Law Survives Union Challenge in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Wisconsin unions failed Thursday to secure a temporary injunction against the state's new right-to-work law.

The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and other unions brought the lawsuit quickly after the law was rushed through the Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker, who announced support for right-to-work in Wisconsin despite earlier statements to the contrary, signed the law on March 9.

In their bid for a temporary injunction and eventual overturn of 2015 Wisconsin Act 1, the unions claimed that the law allows unjust taking of their property by forbidding forced contributions from non-members.

Judge C. William Foust ruled against them at a hearing this morning on the issue, finding that they did not meet the burden to prove an injunction was necessary.

"The bottom line is, while there may be resonable cause to think that plaintiffs can succeed on the merits, I have questions about whether there is an adequate remedy at law, and I'm not persuaded that there is irreparable harm in allowing Act 1 to go into effect as scheduled," Foust told the court.

The 2 1/2-hour hearing began with argument from Frederick Perillo of The Previant Law Firm, arguing on behalf of the unions that the state's primary legal precedent, the 7th Circuit's decision in Zoeller v. Sweeney, does not apply in this case.

In that challenge to Indiana's right-to-work law, the court found that the unions' right to be the exclusive bargaining unit of employees was just compensation for forbidding forced payments from nonmembers.

"That argument cannot be true in Wisconsin," Perillo said of Sweeney. "It would violate a specific Supreme Court decision."

In Wisconsin, Perillo said, Supreme Court precedent does not allow just compensation in any form but money.

Assistant Attorney General David Meany began by criticizing the "novel" takings case that the unions had presented, calling the argument meritless in light of the fact that 24 states have successfully enacted similar right-to-work laws.

The reason for that, Meany argued, is a section of the National Labor Relations Act that has been in place since 1947, allowing states to forbid unions from charging nonmembers for representation.

Perillo seemed to strike a chord in comparing the law to involuntary servitude because it requires representation of all employees but does not require all employees to pay for those services.

Foust agreed in his closing that the law could "closely" be compared to slavery, but said the unions still had a legal remedy for any potential harm by seeking the payment of nonmember dues if they prevail.

This remedy also eliminates the possibility the harm would be irreparable, the court found.

Though Perillo claimed there was no legal remedy to take money from nonmembers who were obeying the law when they did not pay dues, Foust suggested the state could then be liable.

Meany argued the situation was unique, but the court could devise a satisfactory payment option within its jurisdiction.

Though the unions' challenge to the law's merits still continues, the state had told the Dane County Circuit Court in its opposition brief that it would soon file a motion to dismiss.

Attorney General Brad Schimel predicted that the favorable rulings for the state will continue. "We remain confident the Right-to-Work law ultimately will be upheld as constitutional," Schimel said in a statement.

All the attorneys denied comment after the hearing.

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