Wisconsin Union Law to Take Effect

The Wall Street Journal

Wisconsin Union Law to Take Effect

By AMY MERRICK

The Wisconsin Supreme Court cleared the way Tuesday for the state’s contentious collective-bargaining law to take effect, ruling 4-3 that a lower-court judge who put the measure on hold improperly interfered with the legislature.

The decision limits Wisconsin’s public employees to bargaining over their wages. Raises will be limited to the inflation rate unless voters approve larger increases. The law also requires public employees to contribute 5.8% of their salaries to their pensions and pay at least 12.6% of their health-care premiums.

Mike Huebsch, whose state agency is responsible for public workers’ paychecks, said the department is reviewing the Supreme Court order and will begin implementing the law “when appropriate.”

Fourteen Democratic state senators fled Wisconsin for three weeks this spring in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block the measure, and thousands of protesters came to the capitol in Madison to oppose it.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker said the measure was needed to help tackle the state’s budget deficit and give local governments needed flexibility. Democrats said it was an attack on unions.

GOP legislators passed the bill, and Mr. Walker signed it March 11.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, sued to block the law from taking effect, arguing the state open-meetings law was violated when the Republican leaders moved the bill through committee without giving a 24-hour public notice. A circuit-court judge sided with Mr. Ozanne, issuing a permanent injunction May 27 barring the law from taking effect.

Tuesday’s opinion, signed by three of the Supreme Court’s seven justices, said the circuit-court judge, Maryann Sumi, exceeded her authority. The justices wrote, “One of the courts that we are charged with supervising has usurped the legislative power which the Wisconsin Constitution grants exclusively to the legislature.”

Justice David Prosser, who narrowly survived a re-election battle in April that became a referendum on the collective-bargaining law and Mr. Walker’s policies, issued a separate concurring opinion.

The court’s remaining three justices concurred in part and dissented in part.

Although the justices are chosen in nonpartisan elections, the court is generally considered to be split 4-3 in favor of conservatives.

Next month, nine state senators—six Republicans and three Democrats—will face recall elections sparked by public rancor over the collective-bargaining debate. The Senate currently has 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

“Gov. Walker and the legislative Republicans’ insistence on union-busting and taking away workers’ rights resulted in months of legal wrangling, unprecedented political divisiveness and millions of dollars of lost budget savings,” Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller said.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case June 6.

Mr. Walker said in a statement, “The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again.”

Write to Amy Merrick at amy.merrick@wsj.com

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