Wisconsin employers can impose terms despite ruling
MADISON — Wisconsin union leaders scored a win when a Madison judge ordered state labor relations officials to stop enforcing portions of Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining restrictions, but it could be a hollow victory, as unions still can't force concessions from the state and the conservative-leaning state Supreme Court could reverse the decision within weeks.
Union attorneys say Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas' ruling means school districts and municipal employers must again sit down with unions to discuss wages, hours and workplace conditions. But it doesn't require employers to agree with the unions' proposals and didn't restore the unions' ability to force employers into binding arbitration. Since public unions can't legally strike in Wisconsin, employers could dictate the terms of any new deal.
"That was always our key request, please give us some relief from the arbitration," said Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. "If the unions have a right to go to arbitration, the arbitrator can choose the union package. That can cost us more."
Union attorneys and leaders said the ruling at least forces employers back to the bargaining table.
"The big thing is we can at least talk to the employers again," said Rick Badger, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 40. "Right now, we had employers who said we'd like to sit down with you but we can't. This at least allows that dialogue. If that happens, good things happen."
Walker, a Republican, proposed a bill in 2011 that stripped most public workers on the state and local levels of almost all of their collective bargaining rights. The plan sparked massive protests at the state Capitol but the GOP-controlled Legislature passed it anyway.
Colas last year found sections of the law unconstitutional as they applied to two unions representing Madison teachers and Milwaukee public workers, including provisions that barred negotiations on workplace conditions and hours, limited bargaining on wage increases to the rate of inflation, outlawed automatic withdrawals of union dues from members' paychecks and required union members to vote annually on whether their wanted their organizations to continue to represent them.