Wisconsin’s ambitious collective bargaining law, which sparked a bitter recall campaign against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, was upheld in its entirety on Thursday by the state’s supreme court.
Act 10, passed in 2011, sharply limits the power of certain public employees in the state to engage in collective bargaining with the state government. The law also requires public unions to recertify every year, makes the payment of union dues voluntary, and increases the required contribution by public employees to their pension and health insurance plans.
In a 5-2 decision, the court ruled that Wisconsin public employees “have no constitutional right to negotiate with their municipal employer on the lone issue of base wages, let alone on any other subject.” The court also ruled that the law did not constitute an illegal restriction on the free speech rights of public employees. The ruling was a reversal of a lower court decision that had found major components of the law to be unconstitutional. It also marks the end of the road for legal challenges to the law, which has also been upheld twice in federal court.
In a statement, Walker called the ruling a victory for Wisconsin’s taxpayers, who he said had saved over $3 billion under the law.
Madison’s teachers union, which brought the suit, released its own lengthy statement calling the decision “morally bankrupt” and blaming the outcome on a “coalition of the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and the Wisconsin Club for Growth.” The group’s executive director, John Matthews, said that many members of the court should have recused themselves from the case due to the financial support they had received from business groups while running for a seat on the court.
“How those justices could not have seen that their participation in this case was unethical boggles my mind,” said Matthews.
Act 10 has sharply divided Wisconsin politics in the three years since it was first proposed. During the debate over its passage, thousands of protesters, including teachers skipping work, amassed in the state capitol, while Democratic legislators fled Madison in an effort to prevent a quorum needed to pass legislation.
After the law was successfully passed, a recall effort began against Gov. Walker as well as several Republican legislators. While Democrats eventually succeeded in retaking the state Senate after unseating several Republicans, Walker himself survived, and Republicans retook the Senate following the 2012 general election.
Thursday’s decision, along with another ruling by the supreme court upholding a state voter ID law, could bolster Walker’s effort to win reelection and a third endorsement from Badger State voters.
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