MADISON, Wis. - A judge here ruled March 29 that a restraining order is still in force blocking a law that kills collective bargaining rights for public workers. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued the ruling yesterday after Republican Gov. Scott Walker defied the restraining order she issued last week.
In issuing the restraining order last week, Judge Sumi said the ramming through of the bill by Republican lawmakers without adequate notice likely violated the state's public notification requirements.
Ignoring the restraining order, the governor has already begun implementing some of the harshest anti-worker aspects of the bill: He has ended the collection of union dues by the state from the paychecks of public workers and he has increased the amounts deducted from their paychecks for healthcare benefits.
Wisconsin Republicans continued their finagling to try to justify the governor's actions. Wisconsin law clearly stipulates that a bill passed by both houses of the state Legislature and signed by the governor becomes law only after it is published by the secretary of state. Secretary of State Doug La Follette, a Democrat, has not published the measure because of the restraining order in place against his doing so. Last Friday, the Legislative Reference Bureau published the bill, and Republican lawmakers said that step made the anti-worker bill into a law.
Walker's moves drew strong condemnation from Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.
"This guy thinks he is a dictator who can ignore the laws of Wisconsin and trample down workers' rights in his extreme overreach for absolute power," Neuenfeldt said. "By attempting to unilaterally publish a bill and implement it as law in the face of a court order to the contrary shows Walker and his Republican pals completely unfit to govern the state of Wisconsin."
Judge Sumi, yesterday, also blasted the governor. She said the actions of Walker and the Republican lawmakers, or anyone else who ignores the restraining order, put them "in peril of sanctions" and serve to "jeopardize the stability of the state."
It was revealed during the court hearing yesterday that the Legislative Reference Bureau had been strong-armed into publishing the bill by Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Visibly uncomfortable staffers of the bureau were asked in court if they had been put under pressure. After hesitating, Cathlene Hanahan, deputy chief of the bureau, said of Fitzgerald, "He is our boss. His asking could be seen as insisting." Stephen Miller, the bureau's director, said he did not believe the publishing of the bill by his bureau would make it law.
The judge's latest ruling, observers note, is a warning to state agencies such as the Department of Administration, which has begun implementing the anti-union bill, that they too are in violation of the court order.
Republicans are now claiming that state agencies like the DOA are not parties to the lawsuit and are not subject to Sumi's restraining order.
Asked if the agency would observe the court order, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch said, in a phone interview, "We will continue to confer with our legal counsel and have more information about how to move forward in the near future."
Commenting on the Republican resistance to the court orders, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Morona, said, "They seem incapable of hearing people who say they are wrong."
All over Wisconsin, meanwhile, unions and their allies continue their fight against Republican attacks on workers' rights.
On April 4 the state will be the scene of major gatherings and protests in a national Day of Action. The labor movement picked that day because it was on April 4, 1968, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he had gone to stand with sanitation workers demanding their right to bargain collectively under the auspices of AFSCME, the public employees' union
Thousands are expected to kick off the actions in Madison a day earlier, on April 3, by marching on the Capitol and massing in the rotunda for an event titled "Been to the Mountaintop." Inside the Capitol they will conduct a mass singing of labor songs, with local unions providing thousands of songbooks.
On April 4 AFSCME will help lead a Poor People's Campaign march and rally at Madison's City Hall. The Rev. Jesse Jackson will address thousands who gather for a rally at the Capitol, followed by a candlelight vigil expected to fill the grounds surrounding the building well into the night.
Also, on that day there will be Rock the Vote rallies around the state, in preparation for crucial state Supreme Court elections April 5, when labor and its allies hope to elect Assistant Attorney General Joanne Kloppenburg to the state's high court and defeat pro-Walker incumbent David Prosser.
The Rock the Vote rallies are also intended to build support for recall campaigns against Republican state senators. The rallies are planned for Milwaukee, De Pere, Janesville, La Crosse, Sheboygan and numerous other towns and cities.
Image: Thousands are getting ready to protest Gov. Walker and his illegal anti-union moves. Teresa Albano/PW