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Wisconsin Union Spat Heads to Court Thursday

MADISON (CN) - Wisconsin unions have no hope of dismantling the state's new right-to-work law, the state said in advance of Thursday's court hearing.

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 claim that the law allows unjust taking of their property by forbidding forced contributions from non-members.

With the unions' demand for a temporary injunction motion set to go before Judge William Foust at 9 a.m. on March 19, neither side has returned calls for comment.

The state told the Dane County Circuit Court on Tuesday, however, to deny the unions relief.

"The law simply provides that Wisconsin workers are not required to join unions or to pay union dues," Assistant Attorney General Daniel Lennington wrote. "Whether unions adjust to this new economic reality is their choice, but Act 1 does not unconstitutionally take any union property."

In its complaint, the unions point to the pre-Act 1 system of charging non-members a reduced rate to represent them and all employees in collective bargaining negotiations.

"Wisconsin Act 1 effects a transfer of property from the Plaintiffs, including the member organizations of plaintiff Wisconsin AFL-CIO, to nonmembers who by state action are under Act 1 can no longer be required to pay for the representation the plaintiffs are required to use their property to provide," the complaint states.

The DOJ argues, however, that the law does not take money from the unions' existing treasury balance, and that the unions do not have a legitimate property interest in dues that have not been paid.

"Act 1 is not about union treasuries at all; it is about future payments from nonmembers under future contracts that currently do not exist," Lennington wrote. "Contrary to Plaintiffs' complaint, this case is not about the union's money; it is about the workers' money."

Further, no law requires the use of the money for anything beyond collective bargaining.

"Plaintiffs ignore a crucial fact: they decide what services to provide under the contracts they negotiate," the state's opposition brief states. "No law requires a union to provide services like training or arbitration or grievance administration. These are self-imposed duties."

Affidavits from union representatives show that the United Steelworkers local estimate annual losses of $15,000, while the International Association of Machinists local estimates a $19,000 loss over a standard three-year contract.

Both unions said in those affidavits that the current state of affairs puts them in a "dilemma."

They see their choices as either continuing to negotiate, under the assumption that Act 1 will be upheld or that they could lose out on nonmember dues for the year if it is found otherwise, or they can wait to enter a contract until the matter is decided, leaving employees without the protection of a labor agreement. Making a contract in violation of Act 1 subjects the negotiators to possible criminal charges under Act 1.

Wisconsin nevertheless counters that the unions do have an "adequate remedy at law" for a takings clause violation.

"There is no need for an injunction because if plaintiffs win this lawsuit, and the court finds they are entitled to just compensation, then plaintiffs will have no trouble calculating their damages," the brief states. "In short, they will have an adequate remedy at law - money."

Wisconsin notes in its brief that a motion to dismiss the unions' complaint is pending, and that it expects the court adhere to the 7th Circuit precedent that saw no takings issue in a similar Indiana law.

The plaintiffs are represented by Frederick Perillo of The Previant Law Firm. Assistant Attorney General David Meany will argue on behalf of the state.

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