A federal appeals court upheld every provision of the contentious collective bargaining law that brought tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol in 2011 in a decision released Friday.
In a 2-1 decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said all parts of the law were constitutional. The decision went against last year’s federal district court decision that struck down two parts of the law, but had upheld the limits on collective bargaining.
The court found all three challenged parts constitutional, agreeing with the earlier court that collective bargaining limits were valid.
It disagreed with the earlier court, however, by upholding annual recertification elections where public employee unions have to win the majority of votes of all members, not just those who vote in the elections. The appeals court also upheld a restriction for most unions to get their employees’ dues collected from government employees.
The reforms, the ruling said, were adequate because unions have proved to be “too costly” for state budgets. It also said the distinction between some unions, like some public safety unions that were exempted from some of the changes, was valid.
The impact the new ruling will have is not yet clear. In the state courts, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled in September that the law was unconstitutional in a different case.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen hinted toward some uncertainty, although he said he hopes this decision will guide future rulings.
“While there are no guarantees, it is my hope that this decision will pave the way for resolving any remaining challenges in a manner that supports the legislative decisions made by our elected officials,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s major teachers’ union and a plaintiff in the case, is still evaluating the impacts of the new ruling as well as whether they will appeal this ruling, spokesperson Christina Brey said.
WEAC President Mary Bell said in a statement although the ruling is a “setback,” union members will continue the fight for “restoring their rights” to negotiate with employers.
After the decision, Republicans praised the decision and the impact the law has had on government budgets in several statements.
“Today’s court ruling is a victory of Wisconsin taxpayers,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “The provisions contained in [the act] … were vital in balancing Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without increasing taxes, without massive public employee layoffs and without cuts to programs like Medicaid.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement the decision shows Colas’ September ruling was based on a “political, not a legal, decision.”
On the other hand, Democrats showed their disappointment in the ruling. Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, pointed to favoritism in the law, noting the act was “designed to attack” Walker’s political foes.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said in a statement the ruling was an “immense setback” for the middle class.
“After half a century of labor progress in Wisconsin, upholding this divisive legislation will only hurt Wisconsin’s working, middle class families,” Larson said in the statement. “The 7th Circuit’s determination that the calculated protection of political favorites and the targeting of political foes is constitutionally permissible is a sad deterioration of our Wisconsin values.”