The state Supreme Court is being asked to determine whether or not a law that limits collective bargaining for most public employees is unconstitutional.
The high court heard nearly four hours of oral arguments Monday in a case challenging Governor Walker’s controversial Act 10. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen urged Justices to reject a lower court’s decision that found the law unfairly restricts the collective bargaining of municipal employees and teachers. Van Hollen said “if challengers’ arguments are accepted, it would completely change public sector labor law as we know it.”
The state’s defense of the law focused heavily on arguments that Act 10 does not prevent workers from joining a union and does not restrict their ability to ask employers to make concessions. The law does prevent the state from negotiating with workers on anything but cost of living wage increases. Van Hollen maintained that there is no constitutional right to collectively bargain though.
Attorney Lester Pines claimed that the law is unconstitutional because it restricts workers’ rights to free association. He said “the right of employees to self-organization and to select representatives of their own choosing, for collective bargaining or other mutual protection…is a fundamental right.”
AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:14)
Pines also argued that Act 10 is designed to make it nearly impossible for unions to continue to exist, by forcing them to meet yearly re-certification requirements. He said the purpose of the law is “to squeeze them in such a way that they would have to abandon it. To penalize them by adding on all these burdens.”
Attorneys for both sides also presented arguments on whether the high court should issue a stay in a contempt order issued by a Dane County judge this fall, which held members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt of his original decision for continuing to require unions to hold re-certification votes. The state claims the initial decision should only apply to the unions that originally filed the lawsuit, which includes teachers in Madison and municipal workers in Milwaukee. Attorney Tamara Packard countered though that state’s argument amounts to saying there are two Constitutions, one that applies to those specific unions and one that applies to groups that were not part of the original lawsuit.
The Supreme Court will now review the case. It’s unknown when a decision will be announced.