Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill, Act 10, was thrown into judicial limbo when a Dane County judge recently struck down parts of the law causing some public-sector unions to seek revisions to their contracts. However, Atty. Gen. J.B Van Hollen is currently seeking a stay of the decision and has said the state will appeal the decision. Adding to this confusion are two cases currently working their way through the Federal court system. Thus, the battle over Act 10 continues, and it will likely be another year or more before the final word on the law is written.
On September 14, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas overturned key portions of Act 10, ruling it violated constitutional provisions of free speech, association, and equal protection by placing additional burdens on unions and treating various classes of employees differently.
As it stands now, the decision raises questions about the state of contracts entered into by schools and municipalities while bargaining over anything but wages was not allowed. To that end, Van Hollen has requested a stay, which would halt the Colas decision from being implemented until a higher court decides the case.
Last year’s Act 10 case was appealed directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s decision and restored the law. Four of the seven justices must agree to hear the case in order for it to bypass the appeals court.
Act 10 is also working its way through the Federal court system. On September 24 the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago heard oral arguments in the appeal of U.S. District Judge William Conley’s March ruling that overturned the parts of the law requiring unions recertify annually and disallowing automatic withdrawal of union dues.
A third case, also in federal court, was filed by the AFL-CIO and other unions, it argues the collective bargaining law infringes upon public employees’ First Amendment rights. That case is still in the discovery phase.
In all the cases, no matter what happens next, it is likely to be appealed. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is likely the final arbitrator in the state court case, but it, like the federal cases, could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court since some issues in the cases have been framed in terms of U.S. Constitutional rights.
In the meantime, the Dane County Board took advantage of the Colas’ ruling to pass a new contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees through 2015. Until a stay is issued or the decision is overturned other municipalities and school districts are able to do the same.