Federal appeals court upholds controversial Wisconsin collective bargaining law

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] on Friday upheld [opinion, PDF] Wisconsin's controversial Budget Repair Bill [Act 10 text] which significantly limits the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Act 10 was signed into law by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker [official website] in March 2011. Wisconsin's largest teachers' union, public sector union and five other unions challenged the law's constitutionality, claiming that Act 10 violated equal protection based on an irrational division of unions into two categories. Last March the district court had overturned [opinion, PDF] the portion of the law requiring yearly unions elections and said that the budget repair bill illegally prohibited automatic withdrawal of union dues from paychecks. The Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's ruling [AP report] and declared the entire law constitutional. Judge Hamilton partially dissented, stating that he would not have upheld the selective prohibition on payroll deductions for dues for a selective group of public employee unions.

The Budget Repair Bill has been the subject of legal and political controversy since its passage. The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA) [union website] in November filed a lawsuit in the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] challenging its constitutionality specifically as it pertains to law enforcement unions on the grounds that it violates their associational, speech, petition, advocacy and equal protection rights. A Dane County Circuit Court judge struck down [JURIST report] the law as it applies to school district and local government workers in September. Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen [official profile] filed an appeal [JURIST report] days later. In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] refused to reopen a case challenging the Budget Repair Bill because of a justice's refusal to recuse himself [JURIST report]. The Supreme Court's upholding of Act 10 in June 2011 overturned a Dane County Circuit Court's decision [JURIST reports] that struck down the law for violations of the open meetings rule.

 

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