I haven't been able to talk about this until today. Until my mind cleared, I got more information, and mourned what Scott Walker and his GOP legislative majority did and a Republican dominated Appeals Court has now ruled legal.
A federal court of appeals on Friday upheld Wisconsin's law repealing most collective bargaining for most public employees, handing a victory to Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans who put the law in place amid tumult two years ago.Just a reminder on what Act 10 did. It virtually ended collective bargaining rights for public employees by prohibiting the collection of union dues by the employer like other paycheck withholdings are done, prohibited collective bargaining for anything but wages (with a maximum limit set by the State of Wisconsin - i.e. Scott Walkers cronies), and mandated that unions hold a recertification election annually (the same kind of election that's held when a workplace decides it wants a union in the first place), and mandated that 18% of a public employees paycheck be withheld to pay for pension and health insurance. In a nutshell, it prohibited unions from negotiation working conditions, benefits, safety issues or anything relevant to an employee outside of wages, made them go to each individual member to collect dues (a guarentee that they'd not be able to collect sufficient funds to continue to operate), forced them to hold an expensive and unnecessary certification vote every year, and took 18% of their paychecks. Act 10 also prohibited towns, citites, and counties from raising property taxes to make up the differences between the vastly redued state revenue sharing and their current property tax collections (they were forced to strip more wages and benefits from their workers, lay off large numbers of their employees, or massively cut public services).
Parts of the collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, remain on hold because of a state judge's ruling in a separate case, but Friday's decision was a setback for public employees and their unions.
Last year, U.S. District Judge William M. Conley largely upheld the legislation but struck down parts of Act 10 dealing with prohibitions on government employers withholding union dues from workers' paychecks as well as a section requiring labor unions to vote to recertify yearly. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reversed that lower court's ruling in a split decision Friday that upheld the law in its entirety.
Additionally, it exempted those unions that endorsed Scott Walker (namely the fire and police unions) from any of Act 10s provisions. Of course Scott Walker claimed that they were exempted because of "safety concerns", however, the Capitol Police and prison guards were not included in the exemption. We know exactly why Walker exempted them.
The worst part of the ruling was that the dismissed the most relevant issues.
The unions sued in federal court in Madison, arguing the law violated the free-speech and equal-protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Conley upheld much of Act 10, but invalidated the provisions on recertification and dues deduction.
Both sides appealed the decision, and on Friday the court said the entire law was constitutional.
"Act 10 places no limitations on the speech of general employee unions, which may continue speaking on any topic or subject. . . . Act 10 simply subsidizes the speech of one group, while refraining from doing so for another," the decision said.
The majority opinion noted the political ramifications of the law, pointing out just five public-sector unions endorsed Walker when he ran for governor in 2010 - those representing state troopers, deputy sheriffs around the state, Milwaukee police officers, Milwaukee firefighters and West Allis police officers. Members of those unions were exempted from most Act 10 provisions, while other public workers were not, including some in law enforcement, such as Capitol Police and officers on University of Wisconsin campuses.
The court also included in its decision comments by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), who said just before the law passed, "If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you're going to find is President Obama is going to have a . . . much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin."
The court responded: "While Senator Fitzgerald's statement may not reflect the highest of intentions, his sentiments do not invalidate an otherwise constitutional, viewpoint-neutral law."
The court also said it would not second-guess which unions the Legislature decided to exclude from their limits on collective bargaining. Lawmakers said they left public safety workers largely alone because if they went on strike it would endanger the public. Among the public safety workers who were excluded from the measure were motor vehicle inspectors, who belong to the same union as state troopers.
"We cannot, as the unions request, determine precisely which occupations would jeopardize public safety with a strike," the court wrote. "Even if we accept that Wisconsin imprudently characterized motor vehicle inspectors as public safety employees or the Capitol Police as general employees, invalidating the legislation on that group would elevate the judiciary to the impermissible role of supra-legislature."
We know that Act 10 was never about repairing the state budget. It was all about getting rid of unions - something Scott Walker promised his billionaire donor Diane Hendricks in the 2012 documentary As Goes Janesville (thanks DownstateDemocrat for the title correction). In the film Walker bragged that he'd "get rid of those unions" by using a "divide and conquer" tactic. Unions, however, aren't stupid and saw what Walker was doing. Public employees were joined in the massive protests of 2011 by private sector union members along with members of the public and family farmers.
We've also seen how compliant our courts have become towards the Republican agenda. We saw last year how the GOPs secretly conducted and rammed through redistricting gerrymandered our state to the point that Democrats, who received an much higher vote total in the 2012 election, represent only a small fraction of our state legislative and Crongressional seats. Despite the fact that several court orders had to be issued to obtain documents about the secret gerrymandering (and seeing the bombshell documents that Republicans reluctantly coughed up after a heavy fine) the courts allowed the GOP to keep all of their heavily gerrymandered districts which crowded Democratic voters into as few districts as possible. The only change made by the courts was the demand that a district drawn to dilute Hispanic voters between 2 districts be altered.
Scott Walker, his GOP allies, and monied interest donors are celebrating this weekend. Public employees, their unions, and their attorneys are looking over the case and the ruling to see what can possibly be done. One possibility would be to have the entire Appeals Court review the case rather than the 3 judge panel (Joel M. Flaum, author of the majority opinion and Reagan appointee, William J. Bauer a Gerald Ford appointee, and David F. Hamilton, dissenter and an appointee of President Bill Clinton).
Whatever is done, it's clear that Republican court-packing, a decades long component of Republican administrations, has reared its very ugly head. When courts operate to legitimize political agendas and vendettas, there are few obstacles to radical takeovers of state, local and federal governments and the extremist idelogies that quickly become "law'.
Additionally, gerrymandering ensures that the evil keeps on coming despite the will of the voters. And what we've seen in the Red Tide states of 2010 will be with us for a long, long time as gerrymandered districts keep one political party in control in perpetuity.
It ain't pretty here in FitzWalkerStan.