No one is exactly sure
"What's next?" in Wisconsin, now that a state circuit court judge has struck
down most of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial anti-union legislation that
sparked a maelstrom of protests and national media attention last year. The new
law effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public employees in
Wisconsin, which is where AFSCME was founded in the 1930s.
Specifically, the new law
only allowed for collective bargaining on wage increases no greater than the
rate of inflation; all other issues, including workplace safety, vacation and
health benefits, could no longer be bargained.
Some Wisconsin school unions
are now considering whether to seek new contract talks immediately, or to wait
until everything is sorted out. The union representing about 4,700 teachers in
Madison says it will demand new negotiations; other unions are considering
options. In the meantime, Wisconsin's attorney general, who supports Walker,
will appeal to have the law kept in place throughout the appeals process.
Pundits are waiting to see if the Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees to take the
case directly, rather than waiting for it to wind its way through appellate
Both sides are claiming
"politics" again. In his 27-page ruling overturning the law, Dane County
Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas said the Wisconsin law violates both state and
federal constitutions. He wrote that sections "single out and encumber the
rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely
because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free
speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States
Constitutions." Colas also said the law violates the equal protection
clause by creating separate classes of workers who are treated differently and
Colas was appointed to the
bench by Walker's predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker has
criticized Colas as a "liberal activist judge."
Technically, Colas' ruling
was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Madison teachers union and applies
only to local and school employees, but not those employed by the state or
Wisconsin's university system. But in reality, the ultimate decision will apply
across the board for all public employees impacted by the law.
Multiple observers say
Wisconsin's Supreme Court at the very least "leans conservative," adding more
intrigue to the ongoing drama.
AFSCME represents almost
63,000 Wisconsin public workers spread among four union councils.