Federal Court Rules Scott Walker's Anti-Union Crusade Unconstitutional
Wisconsin's recall-facing Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his legislative allies received a stunning rebuke from a federal court on Friday that ruled the state's Act 10 that stripped most state employee unions of the collective bargaining rights and dues-collecting authority was an unconstitutional abuse of power.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Conley, which struck down those sections of the law, held that the Legislature had the right to deny union bargaining rights, so long as that policy was applied evenly across all state employee unions--not just the ones opposing the Governor's or his party's policies. In Act 10, Walker generally exempted state police and public safety unions from the bargaining and dues-collecting restrictions.
"The Act’s treatment of the Capital Police, who endorsed the Governor’s opponent, in comparison to its treatment of state vehicle inspectors, who endorsed the Governor, best illustrates this suspect line-drawing," Conley wrote, saying that targeting of some unions violated the Constitution's equal protection clause.
"There is no dispute that a state may bar its public employees from engaging in any form of collective bargaining. The only question is whether a state may restrict the collective bargaining rights to one category of public unions while allowing full rights to another category," he wrote. "The new, expansive restrictions on collective bargaining bears no rational relationship to a legitimate government interest in avoiding strikes of those employees."
The Court also said that Walker and his GOP allies also went too far in trying to stop the collection of union dues for some state employee unions but not others, saying that restriction violated both equal protection and freedom of assembly rights.
"Indeed, it is even more irrational to deny a voluntary set off union dues to general union members who affirmatively request it while imposing an involuntary set off of dues by public safety union members who affirmatively oppose it," Conley held. "Nor have defendants described how this particular provision affords state and municipal governments increased flexibility to manage the economic crisis, except perhaps to suppress disfavored unions from opposing certain governmental cuts -- a purpose that cannot justify the government’s selectively subsidizing union speech."
The judge also said in a footnote that Walker's vendetta against the unions was not related to Act's supposed purpose of saving taxpayers money.
"In press releases and public addresses, the Governor claimed that Act 10 was needed to balance the state budget and give state and municipal governments the tools to manage during economic crisis. There is nothing in the record to suggest prohibiting dues withholding for some, but not all, public sector employees provides an administrative savings."
The decision will have national implications--and not just because it was issued by a federal judge. Different right-wing governors elected in 2010 have taken the lead nationally in advancing different rightwing crusades, with Walker being the point man to undermine public sector unions. The campaign to recall Walker from office has prompted national conservative activists, such as David Koch, to donate huge sums to Walker's retention campaign as well as to state publicly that Walker's anti-union drive was one of the most important political fights of 2012.