Many Wisconsinites are aware that Wisconsin Act 10 transformed union-management labor relations in the public sector when it became law in 2011. The enactment produced massive protests, political upheaval and numerous legal challenges.

Act 10 prohibits most public employees from collectively bargaining on issues other than base wages, prohibits municipal employers from deducting labor organization dues from paychecks of general employees, imposes annual recertification requirements, and prohibits fair share agreements.

The legal battle over Act 10 is over for now. The law has been upheld in its entirety by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision handed down on July 31, 2014.

The case was brought by Madison Teachers, Inc. and a union representing Milwaukee city employees. They argued that Act 10 violated state and federal constitutional rights to freedom of association and equal protection under the law. Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, Justice Michael Gabelman stated, “Collective Bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation.” Therefore, he continued, the legislature may change the nature of collective bargaining as it did in Act 10.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in dissent that the majority opinion diminished multiple constitutional rights. They would have held that Act 10 unconstitutionally infringes on the right of people to organize.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Patrick Crooks acknowledged that for many public workers, “Act 10 effectively ended meaningful union representation carried out through statutory collective bargaining.” He noted that the law reflects various policy determinations and that the judicial branch “must observe and recognize that the court system cannot substitute its judgment on questions of policy.” Those determinations, he wrote, are for the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor.

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