Court Strikes Down Parts of Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law


On March 30, a federal district judge in Wisconsin upheld much of Gov. Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law, passed in 2011, but struck down key sections. Wisconsin Education Association Council v. Walker (W.D.Wis. 2012). This comes on the heels of a successful petition campaign which was certified in mid-March to recall the Governor. The upcoming recall election is too close to call. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this decision has on that vote.

The court found that Wisconsin could not prevent public employee unions from collecting voluntary dues through payroll deductions, and could not require them to recertify annually. The collective bargaining law, also known as Act 10, established a system in which most of the public unions were required to have an “absolute” majority of their members vote every year to recertify—a standard higher than traditionally used. The law also took away some unions’ rights to collect mandatory dues and prevented unions from deducting voluntary dues directly out of employee paychecks.

Because the measure exempted the public safety unions, such as police and firefighters, and not others, the law treated some unions more favorably. The court ruled that treating unions differently could not stand constitutional muster. The court made clear that the State did not have the right to pick and choose among public unions.

“So long as the state of Wisconsin continues to afford ordinary certification and dues deductions to mandatory public safety unions with sweeping bargaining rights, there is no rational basis to deny those rights to voluntary general unions with severely restricted bargaining rights,” the court ruled.

Many states across the country are seeking to limit collective bargaining in their state, and the outcome of this decision could either guide other states in doing so effectively, or cause them to re-think that strategy. MSEC will be watching to see if this case is appealed and if other federal courts follow this line of reasoning.