Wisconsin Appeals Court Upholds Right-to-Work Law

(CN) – The Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that had struck down the state’s controversial “right-to-work” law, finding that it does not constitute an unlawful taking from unions.

Adopted by Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature, 2015 Act 1 prohibits workers from being required to pay union dues as a condition of their employment.

The law was signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker after a 24-hour session in the Legislature ended on March 6, 2015. Unions filed suit against the law a day later.

The unions argued that all employees would benefit from their representation, regardless of union membership, so all employees may be required to contribute union dues.

A state judge struck down the law last year, but the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed that decision Tuesday.

“The benefits of exclusive representation correspond to a duty to represent all employees in the bargaining unit fairly, including non-members of the union who will pay nothing for representative services. Act 1 does not deprive compensation for those mandated services,” Judge Mark Seidl said, writing for the three-judge panel. “The law merely prohibits anyone from conditioning a person’s employment on the payment of monies designed to cover the costs of performing that duty of fair representation.”

The state appeals court cited Seventh Circuit precedent in the 2014 case Sweeney v. Pence, which upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s right-to-work law. The Seventh Circuit also upheld Wisconsin’s law in July based on its ruling in Sweeney.

“Act 1 does not require labor organizations to provide services to anyone. Act 1 merely prohibits employers from requiring union membership or the payment of fees as a condition of employment. The unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-member employees,” Seidl wrote.

The court also noted that the duty to represent all employees in a bargaining unit only applies if the union chooses to act as those employees’ exclusive representative.

“Unions must now consider the foregoing costs and benefits in light of the additional requirements imposed by Act 1, and then determine how best to lawfully acquire the funds they believe they need to perform their duties as an exclusive bargaining representative,” the 19-page ruling states.

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