Wisconsin's Collective Bargaining Limits Survive Legal Challenges

Jul 31, 2014
Originally published on July 31, 2014 8:07 pm

Wisconsin's Supreme Court has upheld Governor Scott Walker's signature law restricting public employee union bargaining rights. The law has already been upheld twice in federal court, but, as Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports, the new decision in state court effectively ends legal challenges to the law.

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Remember a few years ago when Wisconsin's Capitol building in Madison was basically paralyzed by protesters? That fight was all about Governor Scott Walker's signature labor law. The law restricts public employee bargaining rights. Now the State Supreme Court has upheld that law. The decision effectively ends the legal challenges to the plan, as Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: By a 5 to 2 vote, Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled the public sector collective bargaining remains quote, "a creation of legislative grace and a not constitutional obligation." Collective bargaining was a benefit justices wrote, to which workers were never constitutionally entitled. Speaking to reporters at the Wisconsin State Fair, Walker called the ruling a huge win.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: I think they showed that the law is pretty clear, that the legislature and I had every right in doing this, and I hope people can move beyond just the legal challenges and just move on to moving this state forward.

JOHNSON: Walker says the law has already saved the government money by forcing public workers to pay more for their benefits. It previously survived two federal court challenges. Attorney Lester Pines, who represented unions in this case, says no one was surprised at today's outcome. But he rejects the governor's claim that this law was ever about balancing budgets.

LESTER PINES: It was designed to cause municipal public employee unions and state public employee unions to go away.

JOHNSON: When Walker first unveiled his collective bargaining plan in 2011, it lit a fire under unions. Crowds topping 100,000 showed up to protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol. And unions helped organize an ultimately unsuccessful recall campaign against Walker. Even today, protesters still gather daily at the capital to sing union songs, though they now number in the dozens.


JOHNSON: Madison eighth grade science teacher Susan Cohen is among those singing today.

MICHAEL COHEN: I think that this was one battle that we lost. I don't think the war is over.

JOHNSON: Indeed, other fights continue. The State Supreme Court also ruled today in favor of Scott Walker's voter ID law, though a federal court has put that law on hold. And Governor Walker himself is in a dead heat with his Democratic challenger for reelection. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.