Collective Bargaining Decision Angers Conservatives, Pleases Unions
As news of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas' decision to strike down the state's collective bargaining law spread, liberals marked the ruling a win while conservatives took issue with it.
Just hours after Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas decided that the state’s collective bargaining law was unconstitutional, reaction from liberals and conservatives erupted.
According to our media partners at FOX 6 News, Colas ruled Act 10 — the budget repair bill — as null and void because the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions. Specifically, the law violates the guarantee of freedom of speech and citizens' freedom of association.
The news heated up Wisconsin liberals and conservatives on social media sites, caused outrage and praise from elected officials, and pleased top union officials.
A event page titled We Aren’t Backing Down! Tell Wisconsin Union Judges NO! was posted by a group called Founders’ Intent and advocated for a protest at the State Capitol on Sept. 22.
On the event Facebook page, Kristie Formolo wrote: How many times do we have to shove it in their out of touch liberal faces. Wisconsin is moving forward... We are tired of liberals ruining our state and our country. We will be heading to Madison for the rally, then we will stop and do a little shopping at Hobby Lobby and finish it off with a meal at Chick-Fil-A in Racine!
But on the Wisconsin Education Association Council website, Sandra Angell Buxton posted: Thank God "Some Circuit Court Judge in Dane Co" realizes the law violates the constitutional equal protection clause by creating separate classes of state workers who are treated differently and unequally under the law.
Union officials tout decision as a win
Jason Hempel, an executive board member on the Wisconsin Professional Fire Fighters Association, said Colas’ decision acknowledges the hardship that the Act 10 law placed on public employees, specifically how one group was required to recertify and others did not.
“I think it’s a win for the working people of Wisconsin,” he said. “We feel confident that, in the event of an appeal, it should hold up to this judges' decison. It also shows how Scott Walker has treated the middle class, that basically he’s doing things that are against the Constitution and he is being unfair to people.”
Christina Brey, spokeswoman for WEAC, agreed with Hempel. Brey released the following statement:
“This is a sound decision by the court that upholds what we’ve been saying all along — Act 10 violates our members’ constitutional rights. The decision in the suit, which was filed by Madison Teachers’ Incorporated and funded by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Education Association, is a positive development.
"We understand there are more steps ahead, but the fact that the decision upholds what we have said all along, Act 10 violates our members’ constitutional rights, this is a court decision we embrace.”
Budget nightmares remain
Caledonia Village President Ron Coutts said the law change doesn’t change the budgeting process, but the decision will likely impact the number of bargaining units they’ll need to negotiate with and what aspects of the contract they’ll be able to bargain.
“We also haven’t settled our contracts with our police and fire unions and it may have an effect on the mediation and arbitration process,” Coutts said. “I imagine this means we’ll have the possibility of losing cases.
“It does change the whole landscape of the village and it’s a win for the unions, but we're having our first budget meeting on Monday and this decision is going to be a real part of the discussion. I have a feeling it’s going to have an impact on the budget. How? I don’t know until I get the details."
Mount Pleasant Village President Carolyn Milkie said she is wondering what, if any, impact the decision will make on the village as employees and trustees work on the budget for 2013.
"I think it's too early to speculate because I expect this matter to go through the appellate courts before anything final is determined," she said. "We will have to talk with our attorney to see if we need to take any special steps as we move through the budgeting process."
But Sturtevant Village President Steven Jansen is not worried.
"This will play out in the courts, but in the end, I think Act 10 will be upheld," he said. "This will not have an impact on how we approach the 2013 budget process."
Racine Unified School Board president Dennis Wiser said Colas’ decision doesn’t impact the current budget because it doesn’t affect state funding.
“All it changes is the ability for unions to organize, but the cuts remain the same,” Wiser said. “In one perspective it's going to boost the moral of employees, but we’re just as short of cash as ever and our economic reality is just as stark as ever. Sure, we’ll have more people talking at the table, but the money in the pot is still small."
Wiser also questioned whether Colas’ decision would stand up to an appeal because the decision arrived at the conclusion that employees need to be treated the same. But Wiser pointed to the police and fire unions having different retirement rights as other public union members
“They can retire earlier and receive higher benefits,” he said. “So it’s always been different.”
State legislators follow party lines
Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Act 10 had already been litigated, but more importantly, state residents have re-affirmed over and over again their support of the measure.
"There have been multiple opportunities for residents to speak out about Act 10, and they have, through the recall elections, proven that they approve of the law," he said.
Like Gov. Walker, Vos is trying to understand how a circuit court judge's decision overrides that of a federal judge. He also is worried about what this new development means for municipalities going into budget meetings for 2013.
"It's not fair that a liberal Dane County judge could potentially throw the entire state into chaos now," Vos added. "This decision does not help a single child in school and endangers the sustainability of programs funded in the budget."
Overall, Vos said this was a political decision made by a political judge that might need to be stayed.
"Not only is this decision overreaching, but Judge Colas might have to stay his own decision since a higher court has already ruled on these matters," he stated.
State Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) fully supports Judge Colas' decision because it sends a clear message that Act 10 was illegal.
"The budget repair bill was never about patching a hole in the budget. It was strictly a targeted move at a political opponent," he said. "I'm glad the court caught them in the act of targeting certain groups that opposed Gov. Walker."
Lehman said the passage of Act 10 created an unnecessary emergency early in Walker's term that was unnecessary and now, it seems, illegal.
"Going after unions unnecessarily obviously created two classes: public employee union members and others. The punishing burden placed on union association was seen as obviously discriminatory," he explained. "The decision today restores an important element of fairness to Wisconsin and recognizes how the Republicans overstepped."
Election candidates offer opposing views
Candidates vying for the state's 13th Assembly District that includes Wauwatosa, Elm Grove and parts of Brookfield, disagreed with whether Act 10 should remain intact.
John Pokrandt, Democratic candidate, called the sweeping budget repair bill a political overreach.
"It was never about the budget. It was about a political agenda," Pokrandt said.
"No one disagrees that in these tough times concessions on wages and benefits were necessary. The unions were ready to negotiate but were never given the chance," Pokrandt said.
But Republican candidate Rob Hutton said the judge had ruled "against the will of the people" who backed Act 10 by rejecting the recall of Gov. Walker.
"Activist judges have long tried to overturn legislatures and this is another example of that," Hutton said. "I look forward to the state appealing this decision and hope the higher court makes a more accurate interpretation of the Constitution."