Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin’s Controversial Public Union Law

By Mike Grubbs

A panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Wisconsin’s widely-discussed 2011 law that limits the collective bargaining rights of most public sector employees. Wisconsin Educ. Assoc. Counsil, et al. v. Walker, Nos. 12-1854, 12-2011 & 12-2058 (7th Cir. January 18, 2013).

The law, known as Act 10, applies to public sector employees and unions in Wisconsin. Act 10 limits public sector unions’ influence by, among other things, prohibiting public sector employers from deducting union dues from paychecks, requiring public sector employees to recertify their unions each year, and limiting collective bargaining for most public sector employees to issues of base wages. “Public safety employees,” such as firefighters and police officers, are not subject to Act 10’s restrictions. Several unions representing public sector employees argued that Act 10 violated freedom of speech and the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. The Seventh Circuit rejected the unions’ arguments.

The court reasoned that states are under no obligation to aid the unions in their political activities by providing payroll deductions for union dues. The court also held that the legislature had a rational and valid reason for passing Act 10, stating that “Act 10 exhibits a rational belief that public sector unions are too costly for the state.” The court concluded that Wisconsin was free to impose any of Act 10’s restrictions on all public sector unions. The decision lifts the lower court’s injunction against those two provisions of Act 10, restoring them to active operation.

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