The Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide whether the law eliminating most collective bargaining for public workers is constitutional after hearing arguments.
Justices heard arguments in court Monday from the state attorney general and attorneys representing municipal workers unions.
Dane County Judge Juan Colas had ruled parts of the law were unconstitutional when applied to Madison teachers and a Milwaukee public workers union, saying Act 10 violated the state constitution's equal protection and association rights. He also held Wisconsin Employment Relations Commissioners in contempt for trying to go forward with union elections under the law.
Monday, attorneys on both sides made their case.
"The parties here today agree as they must that there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining," Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said. "We find ourselves here today arguing, oddly I believe, that the collective bargaining provision within Act 10 somehow violate the challengers constitutional rights. There is no basis in the law to support such a finding. It is certainly not a constitutional violation to limit the scope of collective bargaining since it is not a constitutional violation to eliminate collective bargaining as a whole."
But attorneys representing the unions differed sharply.
"Our position is not that there's a constitutional right of collective bargaining," Lester Pines, attorney for Madison Teachers, Inc., said. "We have never argued that. What we have argued and what is supported by the law is there is an associational right related to employees coming together for the purpose of that activity and mutual aid and protection."
Pines argued the law was penalizing workers who exercised their rights to associate, including only allowing a raise for union members based off of base salary.
"Which means if you choose to participate you will never get a real wage increase for the rest of your career and that's a penalty," Pines said.
Justices spent hours questioning legal precedent and details of arguments provided by both sides over months of briefs.
"I believe in this case counsel that's where the two ships are passing," Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said to AG Van Hollen. "Your opponents see the right of citizens to associate together as a constitutional right of association and its implication. You take apparently what the Court of Appeals calls 'the second way.'"
"Your honor, I don't believe that's the case," Van Hollen said. "I don't believe the two ships pass in the night. I believe they collide and the state has the bigger ship and we shall win."
Later in arguments, Pines addressed the analogy.
"With all due respect to the attorney general the Titanic was a big ship too," Pines said. "One problem for the Titanic was it ran into an iceberg that was a lot smaller than it was, and it ripped the ship apart and it sank. What Act 10 has run into is the Wisconsin Constitution."
Justices also heard arguments over whether that contempt order should be held and union elections allowed to go forward despite the court considering the case.
The court is expected to rule on both issues, although there is no timeline for those decisions.
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