Wisconsin unions sue to reverse public employee bargaining restrictions


Seven public employee unions filed suit Nov. 30 in the latest attempt to overturn a 2011 state law that stripped Wisconsin public employees of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The law, pushed through by then-Governor Scott Walker and a Republican legislature, requires unionized public employees to vote every year whether they still want to be unionized. They only stay union if a majority of workers vote yes, not just a majority of those voting. It also requires public employee unions to negotiate new contracts every year but bars them from negotiating anything but base wages, and it limits raises to inflation unless voters approve higher increases via a referendum.

The law was meant to decimate public employee unionization, and it has succeeded. Since the law passed, unionization among Wisconsin public sector workers dropped more than half, from 50% to 19%.

The law has withstood multiple legal challenges over the past dozen years. The new lawsuit argues that the law’s exemption of police and firefighters from the bargaining restrictions violates the Wisconsin Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. Police and fire unions had endorsed Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

A similar argument failed in a federal lawsuit challenging the law. But in August, Wisconsin’s elected Supreme Court flipped to liberal control.


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