New ruling in union case creates confusion

Ruling creates confusion about whether restrictions can be statewide
New ruling in union case creates confusion

A judge added more confusion Tuesday to the question of whether his ruling invalidating Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining restrictions on municipal workers applies across Wisconsin.

Two unions representing Madison teachers and local government workers in Milwaukee filed a lawsuit in 2011 alleging the restrictions are unconstitutional because they capped union workers’ raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts. Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas ruled the restrictions are unconstitutional as they pertain to members of those two unions.

It’s unclear whether the ruling applies to municipal public workers statewide or just in Madison and Milwaukee. The state Supreme Court agreed to take the case in June.

The unions’ attorneys contend Walker’s administration is still moving forward to implement the restrictions against other unions not involved in the lawsuit. They asked Colas in April to issue an injunction making clear that work must stop.

On Tuesday, Colas issued a three-page decision saying the Walker administration cannot enforce the restrictions against anyone. But he refused to issue the injunction, saying the Madison and Milwaukee unions haven’t been harmed because the restrictions haven’t been enforced against them.

“For that reason, though the defendants are bound by the court’s judgment, even with respect to their actions toward non-parties, the court cannot issue the requested injunction,” Colas said.

Lester Pines, one of the Madison and Milwaukee unions’ attorneys, declared victory.

“(The ruling) affects every municipal employee and employer in a union in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which is defending the restrictions on the Walker administration’s behalf, said in an email that the agency was “pleased” with Colas’ decision.

“As to what the ruling might mean, we’ll confer with our clients,” she said. She did not elaborate.

Walker, a Republican, introduced a bill in 2011 that stripped almost all public employees on every level except public safety workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the bill despite nearly three weeks of massive, around-the-clock protests at the state Capitol.

A federal appeals court found the law constitutional in a separate lawsuit this year. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Madison ruled the law was valid in yet another suit.

The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association also has challenged the law. That suit is still pending in Dane County court.