Supreme Court Reinstates Collective Bargaining Restrictions

6/15/11 – Most collective bargaining powers will soon disappear for thousands of unionized public employees in Wisconsin. A sharply-divided State Supreme Court voted 4-to-3 yesterday to reinstate the union limits sought by Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. The administration said it’s reviewing the court decision, and gave no details on when the law’s provisions will take effect. The justices found that a joint Senate-Assembly conference committee did not have to follow the state’s Open Meeting Law. And the court struck down Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi’s decision to block the union law because the panel approved it with less than two hours of public notice on March ninth. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the ruling vindicated his fellow Republicans, and he said they didn’t break any laws. Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca said the court found that the Legislature is above the law, and can virtually break almost any laws they choose. Democrats vowed to pass a constitutional amendment to make the Legislature follow the public meeting law – but it’s not expected to pass since they’re in the minority. Lawmakers adopted the Open Meeting Law after the state’s finance panel virtually re-wrote the entire 1975 state budget in secret. The court’s four conservative justices voted to reinstate the union limits. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson gave a stinging dissent, accusing the majority of making a hasty decision and setting forth facts without evidence. Had the court not acted, Republicans said they would have reinserted the union limits into the new state budget. They allow bargaining only for wages at-or-below inflation. State employees must pay more toward their pensions and health care. The proposed state budget would make police unions pay the higher benefit costs, but they would not have the bargaining limits. Many local governments and schools have also required the higher payments, while extending union protections for up to two more years. The bargaining limits won’t apply to the locals until their current contracts expire.