Judge blocks Wisconsin’s anti-union law

By Jeff Mayers

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – A Wisconsin judge issued a revised order on Tuesday blocking implementation of a controversial state law curbing collective bargaining by public unions while she hears a legal challenge to the proposed law.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi, who issued an injunction two weeks ago blocking the law’s implementation, issued an amended order on Tuesday barring Secretary of State Doug La Follette from doing anything that would result in the measure, known as Wisconsin Act 10, from taking effect.

On Friday, a state agency published the law despite Sumi’s original order, and the administration of Republican Governor Scott Walker has begun to implement the measure’s provisions.

Walker’s administration insists the publication of the law by the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) means the law is now in effect. They also say the LRB’s action did not violate Sumi’s injunction because the agency was not specifically mentioned in the retraining order.

But Judge Sumi’s Tuesday order states: “La Follette, in his official capacity, is enjoined from designating the date of publication for 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, or any further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, including but without limitation publishing in the official state newspaper … until further order of the court.”

The LRB is a nonpartisan agency whose director is appointed by the leaders of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate — both Republicans who support the measure.

A spokesman for J.B. Van Hollen, the state attorney general who has been defending the law, said he was disappointed by the latest order and considering his options.

“As we told the court, we have serious concerns about the court’s decision to continue these proceedings under the current set of circumstances,” Bill Cosh said in a statement.

“We’ll take the time between now and the next scheduled hearing to decide what our best options are to protect the State’s interests, as is the Department of Justice’s statutory duty.”

Democrats, organized labor and other opponents of the measure disagree and say the publication has no legal significance and that the law cannot take effect until their legal challenge is heard and La Follete officially publishes the act in the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper.

The measure was passed by the state Senate on March 9 and the state Assembly on March 10 and signed by Walker on March 11.

It bans collective bargaining by public employees on anything other than base wages — and even those are tightly regulated.

Many of the things public workers now bargain for through their unions, including health insurance, pension benefits, work hours, vacation time and other conditions of employment, will have to be negotiated on a case-by-case by the individual workers themselves.

Walker had strongly pushed the legislation, saying it was part of a package needed to combat the state’s budget deficit.

Union and Democratic critics said that argument was a smoke screen for busting state workers’ unions. The issue attracted hundreds of thousands to demonstrations against the measure.

Democratic state senators fled the state in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block a vote on the measure, and the battle over the bill has become a symbol for other states where unions are trying to preserve bargaining powers as Republican-led legislatures seek to curb them.

(Reporting by Jeff Mayers; Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Peter Bohan)

Judge blocks Wisconsin’s anti-union law