A judge declared late Friday that Wisconsin’s controversial “right-to-work” law violated the state’s constitution. The law had become a centerpiece in the state’s contentious battles over the role of unions and the conservative war on labor unions.
“Right-to-work” laws prevent unions from reaching agreements with employer that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. So a worker can opt out of paying union fees even if they are represented by one in their workplace — meaning they gain the benefits of being in a union (such as collective bargaining for higher wages) without paying to support such efforts.
Last year, shortly after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the legislation, a group of private-sector unions filed a lawsuit arguing that the law acted as an unconstitutional seizure of property because unions had to extend benefits to workers who do not pay dues.
Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust agreed, citing the state constitution’s provision that “the property of no person shall be taken for public use without just compensation.” The property in this case is the benefits and services unions must provide to non-members. And because the union “cannot decline exclusive representative status unless it declines to be voted in at a workplace to begin with,” they are essentially forced to bargain on behalf of non-members.
Foust wrote that the impact of the law “over time is threatening to the unions’ very economic viability.”
The state argued that the law was constitutional because they were not removing money currently in the unions’ accounts.
Last year, Foust rejected a request by three unions to grant a temporary injunction against the law while he was deciding the case.
Here’s What Will Likely Happen To Unions Now That Wisconsin Is A Right-To-Work StateEconomy by CREDIT: On Monday morning, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a right-to-work bill that got fast tracked…thinkprogress.orgThe Wisconsin AFL-CIO chapter, Machinists Local Lodge 1061 in Milwaukee, and United Steelworkers District 2 in Menasha brought the lawsuit.
“Today, the courts put a needed check on Scott Walker’s attacks on working families by ruling that Wisconsin’s Right to Work law is in violation of our state constitution,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO, in a statement. “Right to Work goes against the Wisconsin principles of fairness and democracy and hurts all of Wisconsin by eroding the strength of our middle class. Right to Work has always been unjust, now it’s proven unconstitutional.”
Half of the states in the country have similar laws on the books.
The law’s champion, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) declared on Twitter Friday evening that the law would be upheld:
We are confident Wisconsin’s freedom-to-work law is constitutional and will ultimately be upheld.
— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) April 8, 2016
Dane County is the same county in which the state’s controversial Act 10 law limiting collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions was struck down, before being reversed at the state level.
The state’s Republican Attorney General promised to appeal the decision and said he was confident that the law would be upheld. He did not say whether he would seek to suspend the ruling in the meantime. The National Right to Work Foundation agreed, saying in a statement that Foust ruled against the law “on extremely questionable grounds.”
They have reason to be hopeful that the law will get a different reception in Wisconsin’s 5–2 conservative majority State Supreme Court.
Two years ago, the court upheld the state’s voter ID law, which has made voting difficult for many Wisconsinites and could disenfranchise up to 300,000. Just this month, on the same day of the presidential primary election, Wisconsin voters elected conservative jurist Rebecca Bradley to a longer term. Bradley came under fire in recent months for expressing views about homosexuality that bordered on the genocidal and thoughts that some forms of birth control were similar to murder.