View from around the state: Union ruling reopens old wounds
The reaction to a court ruling last week that repealed parts of the controversial Wisconsin law that severely restricted collective bargaining for public workers has been predictable.
Union leaders have been quick to say “we told you so” and let’s start bargaining again, and Republicans have pulled out their favorite “liberal activist judge” label. And as expected, Republican Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing the ruling.
In many ways the ruling by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas is like ripping off a bandage on a wound that was only starting to heal. But for many public workers and their supporters, the hurt and anger over the actions of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 run much deeper than a flesh wound.
School districts and local government are trying to figure out the ramifications of the Colas ruling. Does it mean that agreements reached after Act 10 are null and void? Does it open the door to immediate bargaining? What about the financial implications to schools and governmental bodies who were able to save money because of the law?
There is no need for either side to overreact at this point because the court process has to play itself out. Ed Ludwig, a La Crosse teacher and president of the La Crosse Education Association, has the correct perspective. “I believe it’s not going to be settled by this first judge’s ruling,” Ludwig told the Tribune last week.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards and the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission say the ruling does not completely turn back the clock, noting that schools and local government still retain control over final contract offers.
Other labor attorneys aren’t as sure but say that the ruling reinforces that public labor unions are still a viable entity.
It was clear that the courts would have their say on the controversial law. That’s how it works in a democracy. And the judicial process is often frustratingly slow, even when the legislative process might move too fast.
Walker fanned the rhetorical flames when he said that Colas “overturned the will of the people and imposed his personal political beliefs on all of us.” The governor may be emboldened by having survived a recall election, but he should not construe his victory to mean that everyone who supported him was also a supporter of Act 10.
Why is it that whenever a judge — which is a nonpartisan position — rules against a conservative-backed initiative, they are labeled a liberal activist? Are there no conservative activist judges? It would be refreshing if we could accept a legal ruling once and not attach it to any political agenda.
Act 10 changed the ground rules for schools and local government. Some decided to go for the throat and force major changes on its union employees with non-wage issues. Others took a more proactive approach and continued to solicit feedback from their employees because they valued a collaborative approach, which was the policy even under collective bargaining.
If there was one portion of Act 10 that had more broad public support, it would be the changes that led to public employees contributing more of their own money to help pay for benefits that were previously part of their compensation package.
You may support Act 10 or hate Act 10, but regardless of the court outcome, it will very difficult for financially strapped public bodies to turn back the clock and ask taxpayers to pick up those costs again.
– La Crosse Tribune. Sept. 23
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