Federal Court Dismisses Second Act 10 Challenge

Posted September 11, 2013

In a long-awaited opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin today rejected yet another attack on Act 10 brought by public sector labor unions.  The case, Laborers Local 236, AFL-CIO v. Walker, was filed shortly after WEAC v. Walker was filed in the same court, raising some claims not brought in the WEAC case.  In the WEAC case, the court held Act 10 unconstitutional in March of 2012, but was reversed the following January by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Act 10 against all of the unions’ challenges.  We have been awaiting a decision from the court in the Laborers case since then.

The court first rejected the unions’ argument that their members’ First Amendment right to associate was burdened by Act 10’s restrictions limiting public sector collective bargaining to the topic of base wages.  The court rightfully recognized that collectively bargaining with a government employer is an act of legislative grace, not a constitutional right.  “Whatever rights public employees have to associate and petition their public employers on wages and conditions of employment, this right certainly does not compel the employer to listen,” the court said in its 12-page opinion.

The court also rejected the unions’ argument that Act 10 violated equal protection by limiting base wage increases for represented employees to a cost-of-living adjustment without doing so for unrepresented employees.  The court held that the government had a rational reason for this distinction, adopting verbatim the State’s argument that municipal employers can better manage their finances by offsetting higher raises with lower ones for individual employees, but if the employees are represented in a single bargaining unit and all receive the same raise, that flexibility is eliminated, so additional constraints are necessary.

These two claims are also raised in the currently-pending Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Walker case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments later this year.  A fourth case raising the same issues, Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association v. Walker, remains pending in Dane County Circuit Court.

WILL, in partnership with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, represented two public employees in the Laborers case who supported Act 10 and wanted to have their voices heard.  Although the court denied our request to intervene as parties in the case, it did agree to accept our amicus brief, which made and reinforced many of the arguments accepted by the court.  WILL and NRTW continue to work together to protect the common sense government reforms of Act 10.

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