Supreme Court is right on Walker’s Act 10

GUEST OPINION

ACT 10 SURVIVES, says the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The law that Gov. Scott Walker pushed through the Legislature in 2011 to cripple public employee unions was politically motivated and a huge overreach under the guise of filling a state budget shortfall, but all that said, this court got it right: There is no constitutional basis upon which to overturn the law.

After three years of non-stop litigation, it seems that the legality of Act 10 finally may have been decided. The political impact of the contentious law - and this decision - have just begun, given that Walker is engaged in a close campaign for re-election with Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

In a 5-2 decision written by Justice Michael Gableman, the court found that collective bargaining is not a fundamental right under the state constitution but rather a benefit that the Legislature can choose to restrict or extend. Act 10 all but ended collective bargaining for most public employees, rendering the once politically feared teachers union, for example, toothless.

“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect,” Gableman wrote.

Gableman was joined by Justices David Prosser, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler. Justice N. Patrick Crooks concurred but wrote separately. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented. The case came to the court after Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas in September 2012 found major portions of the law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, seemingly eager to rule, took the case last year, bypassing the state District 4 Court of Appeals.

Our view was captured in Crooks’ dissent, in which he lamented the end of collective bargaining but found no reason to throw out the law on a constitutional basis. We agree with that reasoning.

Crooks wrote:

“As a justice of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, I join the majority of this Court in voting to uphold the constitutionality of Act 10. In answering the legal questions put to us as we must, we affirm a legislative act that appears to have gone further than needed.

“For many public workers, Act 10 effectively ended meaningful union representation carried out through statutory collective bargaining.

This type of statutory collective bargaining has long been part of Wisconsin’s progressive heritage. It is my firm belief that individuals should have the right to organize and bargain collectively regarding their wages and the terms of their employment. As thoughtful people from across the political spectrum and around the world have long recognized, collective bargaining benefits workers, employers and society itself. Although Act 10 does not violate either the United States Constitution or the Wisconsin Constitution, it erodes longstanding benefits both to public workers and to public employers.”

After Walker’s election, we agreed with the new governor that the state needed to get better control of its labor costs. It needed more flexibility, for example, in the design of benefit plans and union workers needed to fund a portion of those benefits. But Walker, and the Republicans who control both houses of the Legislature, did not have to do what they did to fill a deep budget hole. There were alternatives short of union-busting. Other states chose differently. That they chose union-busting here speaks to their political aims - and not their desire to craft fair, efficient policy. The unions were major backers of Democrats.

Now it appears if Act 10 is to be debated further, it will be in the same halls of the Legislature where it was hatched in the whirlwind that left the state to this day bitterly divided. We will reap the whirlwind for a long time to come. But if there is someday a will to do so, the worst of this law can still be fixed. - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 31

At issue:
Act 10 upheld by court
Bottom line:
Correct ruling


Readers Comments

A divided court made a
Submitted by dpatric2@gmail.com on Thu, 2014-08-07 06:49.
A divided court made a decision on Act 10 but we still have a divided Wisconsin because of this flawed legislation. In an earlier letter, Lei Lund described what happened regarding Act 10... "In 2010, Scott Walker and his legislature passed Act 10, stripping all but the most minor bargaining rights from most public worker unions. Supposedly, it was necessary to solve a critical budget deficit. Actually, it was punitive and political. One intent was to punish the public unions that did not support Walker’s candidacy. Public workers had agreed to the monetary concessions to fix the budget shortfall, but that was not enough punishment, nor would it accomplish the political purpose: to weaken the power of labor unions, which typically support Democratic agendas. Using his “divide and conquer” strategy, Walker vilified public unions, blaming them for Wisconsin’s allegedly high taxes and the budget “crisis” and making people believe that public workers were bilking taxpayers for their “Cadillac” retirement and health care benefits. The message worked. People saw their publically-employed neighbors, friends, family members as the enemy, as leeches, instead of as hardworking public servants doing vital work in their communities. Turning good people against other good people has been one consequence of Act 10, an unfortunate, unnecessary divisiveness. Another consequence, specifically in public education, has been the flight of good educators from the profession. Many excellent, experienced teachers have chosen or have been forced to retire earlier than they had planned; others have made a career move out of education entirely. Districts that aren’t able to pay as much are losing teachers to higher-paying districts. Act 10 is decimating loyalty and collegiality; it is creating a “free-agent” climate of every person for him/herself. Sadly, our children are the ones who are shortchanged. Walker’s policies have not been good for Wisconsin. In November, we must elect leaders who will end divisiveness and bring sound, fair fiscal policy back to our state."
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