A controversial law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees in Wisconsin faces a critical test today, with the state Supreme Court scheduled to take up a case challenging the measure. Justices will oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by teachers in Madison and public employees in Milwaukee, who claim the law passed in the spring of 2011 violates constitutional protections for the freedom of association.
Dane County Judge Juan Colas last fall struck down portions of the law that apply to local public employees, including a requirement that unions hold annual re-certification votes and prohibitions on being able to bargain over benefits and working conditions. Colas in October held members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt for ignoring his order by continuing to schedule re-certification votes.
Today’s hearing represents the first major challenge to the actual substance of the law to make it through to the state’s highest court. Several other lawsuits have failed to gain any traction in the courts, with four others rejected by judges in local circuit courts and on the federal level.
The Supreme Court did previously take up a challenge related to Act 10, although that case focused on the process that was used to pass the legislation and not its actual substance. In a ruling issued in June of 2011, the high court found the law was passed legally.
A ruling upholding the circuit court decision could have widespread implications for the future of Governor Scott Walker’s signature law. It could result in further lawsuits and end up costing local governments millions of dollars. Governor Walker says “those mayors, and county and school district officials, even many of whom would consider themselves to be Democrats, would tell you right now it would be a very very difficult situation for them if somehow Act 10 was not upheld.”
Walker says he is confident the state will prevail in its defense of the law.