On Friday afternoon, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck a blow to two key parts of Act 10, the anti-worker “budget repair bill” that set off the historic protests last year.
Specifically, the court entered an injunction against the provision banning automatic dues deductions for public employee unions, which weakens the ability of the union to represents its members. The court also enjoined Act 10’s annual, mandatory recertification provision, which required public employees to vote to approve or deny union representation every year.
The court found those provisions violated equal protection and First Amendment rights, considering that the same rules did not apply to unions for public safety workers like police and firefighters.
“So long as the State of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights,” wrote U.S. District Judge William M. Conley.
Let’s translate that legal speak, shall we?
Flashback to 2011: In order to gain support for this bill, Gov. Walker and his allies tried to divide and conquer Wisconsin’s workers. They wrote the bill to exempt police officers and firefighters from the collective bargaining restrictions, thinking that this would peel them off from the opposition. They didn’t predict that Wisconsin’s public safety workers would instead turn around and join their brothers and sisters in solidarity against the collective bargaining bill.
And now, the court says, because Walker and Co. tried to set up different rules for different workers, the law violates equal protection and First Amendment rights, making it unconstitutional. It’s a grand irony: Walker’s attempts to divide Wisconsin’s workers not only failed, it could be the move that sinks the entire law.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, this kind of backdoor quid-quo-pro political deal works like a dream, and goes unnoticed by the public. In this case, it completely blew up in the faces of Walker, his legislative allies, and his corporate sponsors.
But the fight is far from over. While these two provisions are temporarily stalled, the rest of Act 10 is fully in effect. Wisconsin’s teachers, nurses, and other public workers are still without their full collective bargaining rights, giving them little to no control over their wages and workplaces. The state is still suffering from massive unemployment, while the chief executive spends his time jet-setting around the country raising funds from super-wealthy donors. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the destructive policies of Scott Walker, his State Senate enablers, and his massively well-monied sponsors like David and Charles Koch.
Today brought two pieces of good news, but the effort to reclaim Wisconsin is in for a long climb.