Wisconsin judge kills anti-union law

MADISON, Wis. – The right-wing push to destroy unions in Wisconsin ran into a wall this morning when the law ending collective bargaining rights for public workers was struck down by a circuit court judge.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said in her ruling today that it was violation of the open meetings law by Republicans that renders the law void. She had previously put the law on hold temporarily while she considered the case.

“The court must consider the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government if the Legislature is not held to the same rules of transparency that it has created for other governmental bodies,” Sumi wrote in her decision. “Our form of government depends on citizens’ trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government.”

While unions and their allies have been pushing full steam ahead to remove from office six Republican senators who supported the bill, they have also been waging a battle in the courts.

Although the labor movement sees the circuit court ruling today as a big victory, the legal battle is not over.

Republicans have already appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which has scheduled arguments for June 6 to decide whether it will hear the case. If the court hears the case it can either uphold or overturn the circuit court ruling. If it does not hear the case, today’s ruling in favor of the unions stands.

If they don’t like the final outcome in the courts, Republicans, who control the state legislature, could also pass the law a second time, this time observing the open meeting provisions that they ignored the first time around. It was their violation of those provisions that led to the judge’s striking down of the law today.

The law that killed collective bargaining rights was pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. When it was rammed through the state legislature, it triggered a workers’ uprising of historic proportions. Hundreds of thousands marched on Madison every day for more than a month with thousands occupying the State Capitol for almost that entire time.

Although there was no reaction from Republicans yet today, Walker and GOP leaders have already said that nullification of the anti-collective bargaining law by the courts would result in their passing the law again as part of the state budget next month if necessary.

The last time they tried doing it that way Democratic state senators fled the state to prevent them from getting the necessary higher quorum required to pass budget laws.

The GOP senators eventually responded to that by approving just the piece of the budget bill that killed collective bargaining rights. Unfortunately for them, they passed that measure in violation of the state’s open meetings law, causing the judge today to nullify the law.

The law eliminating collective bargaining rights forces public service workers to pay more into their health care costs and pensions. Although it exempts police and firefighters, both gave support to the battle against the law by the rest of the public workforce. Firefighters and police marched on the capitol and participated in the occupation of the building.

Photo: An earlier demonstration against the anti-union law. John Bachtell/PW


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of peoplesworld.org.