Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Act 10 Legal Roller Coaster Takes A Few More Turns

A year ago, the Honorable Juan Colas ruled that parts of Scott Walker's union-busting bill, Act 10, was unconstitutional.  For the past year, Walker has thumbed his nose at the judge and his ruling by continuing to enforce the law, even though he was admonished not too.

On Tuesday, Judge Colas clarified his ruling and again admonished the state to stop enforcing the parts he ruled to be unconstitutional.  But in his clarification, he also muddled things up again.  The part where things hopped back on the crazy roller coaster is here:
In his decision Tuesday, Colás agreed his original ruling barred the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission from enforcing key parts of Act 10 for all local government unions.

"The question here is not whether other courts or non-parties are bound by this court's ruling," Colás wrote. "It is whether the defendants are bound by it. Plainly they are, as all parties to a lawsuit are, and in a case in which the statute was found facially unconstitutional they may not enforce it under any circumstances, against anyone."

But Colás declined to issue an injunction against the state. That's because the state is not enforcing the provisions of Act 10 that have been struck down against the unions that brought the case.

The state is enforcing those provisions against other unions, but Colás determined he could not issue an injunction because they are not parties to the case.

"The defendants may be causing irreparable harm to others, who are not plaintiffs in this case. ...Though the defendants are bound by the court's judgment, even with respect to their actions toward non-parties, the court cannot issue the requested injunction," Colás wrote.
What he is saying is that even though his order forbid the state from imposing the unconstitutional parts, such as the recertification vote, he wasn't going to put an injunction on the state regarding unions that aren't part of the lawsuit.

In other words, he's saying that even though what the state is doing to the unions is illegal, he's not going to enforce that ruling except for the two unions that brought the lawsuit.

This will require all the other unions to file their own lawsuits or join together to file a class action lawsuit. The unions are guaranteed to win since the case has already been heard and the arguments are going to be the same. Indeed, Kenosha Educators Association, which joined other unions like AFSCME in refusing to play by Walker's corrupt and unconstitutional laws, could soon file their own lawsuit:
Just last week the Kenosha Education Association became the latest teachers union not to seek recertification after it let a deadline pass. Christina Brey, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said “the majority of our affiliates in the state aren’t seeking recertification,” noting that Act 10 limits union collective bargaining to base wage increases, which are tied to inflation.

Pines said he expects he will file a new lawsuit on behalf of the Kenosha teachers union, which he also represents.

“There will be consequences to these (WERC) commissioners ignoring this order,” Pines said. “We’ll look at what our options are, but in the meantime we’re not going to allow a union we represent to be decertified. They don’t get to ignore the law, and that’s what they’re saying they’re going to do.”
While this ruling will have obviously have a statewide impact as unions are rushing to get to court and/or trying to get their respective employees to finally sit down at the negotiating table again, the place where the ruling will have the most impact is Milwaukee County.

When Act 10 was wrongfully enacted, Milwaukee County Emperor Chris Abele, emulating his hero Walker, declared that the unions were decertified and that he would not deal with them. But by doing so, he made about 1,200 county employees eligible for the Rule of 75. The Rule of 75 means that when an employee's age and years of service adds up to 75, the employee is eligible to retire with full benefits.

In light of Judge Colas' ruling on Tuesday, Abele has a couple of options to choose from.

  • He could acknowledge the law and admit the unions are not decertified.  He then could sit down and negotiate a new contract with the unions and try to get them to agree to give up their lawsuit.
  • He could hold off and wait for the State Supreme Court to make a corrupt ruling based on campaign donations instead of the law of the land.  This will only buy him a little time at best while the case makes its way through the levels of the federal courts.  
But even if Act 10 is held up, then Abele is back in the same spot he is now, which could easily cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.  

I don't know, but I'm not holding my breath for Abele to do the right thing for the workers or the taxpayers.  He hasn't so far and probably doesn't want to start doing something new now.

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