For three and a half years, public-sector unions in Wisconsin, to little or no avail, have sought to topple a state law to restrict their collective bargaining abilities. Their options now are nearly exhausted. Last Thursday, July 31, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a 2011 law passed by the Republican-majority legislature at the urging of GOP Governor Scott Walker. By a 5-2 margin, the court concluded that while public employees may organize unions, their employers are not obligated to negotiate with them. The ruling is a clear victory for Gov. Walker, who survived a voter recall in June 2012 over this issue. It's also a blow for fiscal responsibility at a time when many state and local governments are facing large deficits in employee benefit programs.
The ruling might not have eased tension in a state that by now is all too used to it. But it went a long way in clarifying the situation. Last Friday, on January 18, a federal appeals court in Chicago, by a 2-1 margin, upheld the entirety of a Wisconsin law passed in 2011 that repealed most collective bargaining for state and local government employees. In overturning a lower court decision of last March, the three-judge panel concluded the legislation, Act 10, did not violate public-sector unions' constitutional right to free speech or equal protection. The ruling thus removes a major obstacle to Republican Governor Scott Walker's program to improve his state's fiscal condition.
"The unbridled growth of crony unionism and government corruption will destroy the United States as we know it." This statement may strike many as sheer hyperbole. But its author, Mallory Factor, a political scientist at The Citadel, knows whereof he writes. His new book, "Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind" (New York: Center Street), makes a credible case, and a well-sourced one, that our country may be in the early stages of a ruinous dystopia, courtesy of public-sector unions. In pursuing their interests, argues the author, these labor organizations hold taxpaying citizens hostage to unsustainable wage/salary, pension, health care and other contractual commitments. Municipal bankruptcy filings this year by San Bernardino and Stockton, Calif. may be a mere taste of things to come.
In Wisconsin, the conflict between public-sector unions and the administration of Republican Governor Scott Walker continues, ever assuming a new form - and this time a new victor. The latest round belongs to the unions. Last Friday, September 14, Wisconsin Circuit Judge Juan Colas (Dane County) struck down limits enacted in March 2011 on state and local employee collective bargaining power, arguing the law was unconstitutional on federal and state grounds. The decision enables city, county and school district employees to revert to their earlier situation; state employees, for the most part, are unaffected.
To his sworn enemies, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's victory last Tuesday over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett by 53 to 46 percent has been hard to spin and to accept. The biggest loser, aside from Barrett himself, is the state's public-sector labor unions. There's not much getting around it. It was public-sector unions who led the effort to recall Walker following passage by the legislature over a year ago of a fiscal reform package that included several tough limitations on collective bargaining power. Unions and allied groups by this January gathered nearly a million signatures to put a recall on the ballot.