Court Hears Arguments in Right to Work Lawsuit

On March 10, 2015 the International Association of Machinists Local 1061 and two other unions filed a complaint against the State of Wisconsin alleging the “Right to Work” bill passed by the legislature (2015 Act 1) constitutes an unconstitutional taking of the plaintiffs’ property which violates Wisconsin Constitution Art. I, § 13. The plaintiffs argue that they have a property interest in their collective bargaining agreements with their private sector employers because they include security clauses (mandatory dues payments) which are a monetary interest. The plaintiffs then argue that 2015 Act 1 deprives them of their property without just compensation by prohibiting unions from charging non-members for its bargaining services which the unions are still obligated to provide. They contend that they are obligated to continue to provide these services to non-members because minority unions (unions that represent less than half of eligible employees) are prohibited under Wis. Stat. § 111.06(1)(e) and because the NLRA § 9 requires representatives designated by a majority of employees in a bargaining unit be the exclusive representative of all of the employees in the unit for collective bargaining purposes. Local 1061 asked the court to find Act 1 unconstitutional and permanently enjoin the implementation and enforcement of the law.

On March 19, Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust rejected Local 1061’s request to grant a temporary injunction blocking Act 1 from taking effect. Judge Foust rejected the request because even though there is “some chance that the plaintiffs would succeed on the merits . . . irreparable harm is speculative.” Therefore the law will remain in effect as the case continues.

After Judge Foust’s announcement Attorney General Brad Schimel released a statement that said, “We remain confident the Right-to-Work law ultimately will be upheld as constitutional.”

Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt issued a statement that said, “Today’s ruling is another injustice for working people. A temporary injunction is intended to halt immediate irreparable harm. Make no mistake, Right-to-Work will harm all of Wisconsin’s workers by driving down wages and weakening safety standards across all industries and workplaces. Despite this ruling, workers will continue to organize and mobilize, through their unions, to speak out for better wages and workplace conditions for all of Wisconsin’s working people.”

The DOJ was back in court to defend the law last week (February 15, 2016), this time to counter the AFL-CIO’s assertion that the law should be struck down permanently. Assistant Attorney General David Meany represented the state arguing that “the Constitution does not protect a union’s right to take money from non-union members.” He further argued that Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work law was permitted under federal law and a right-to-work law has never been struck down in the nation’s history.

Attorney General Schimel was quoted as saying “Wisconsin workers have a right, under this law, to work without having to pay fees to a union they don’t belong to. . . This type of law is not unconstitutional, but instead protects the freedom of all Wisconsin workers to choose whether to financially support a union.”

Judge Foust said he expects to make a ruling in the coming weeks.