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Judge voids collective bargaining law (UPDATE)

Associated Press

Judge Maryann Sumi listens to arguments during a hearing on March 18 in Dane County Circuit Court in Madison. Sumi, on Thursday, ruled that Republican legislators violated Wisconsin's open meetings law. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Mark Hoffman)

Judge Maryann Sumi listens to arguments during a hearing on March 18 in Dane County Circuit Court in Madison. Sumi, on Thursday, ruled that Republican legislators violated Wisconsin's open meetings law during the collective bargaining debate. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Mark Hoffman)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The fight over stripping collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin’s public workers will move into the state Supreme Court, and possibly back into the Legislature, after a judge ruled Thursday to strike down the law that passed despite massive protests that paralyzed the Capitol.

Republican backers of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal said they were confident the state Supreme Court would overturn the judge’s ruling that the law is void because lawmakers broke open meetings statutes during the approval process. She had temporarily blocked the law shortly after it passed in March.

The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in the case on June 6.

Republicans who control the Legislature also could pass the measure a second time to avoid the open meeting violations.

Still, Democrats and union leaders who helped organize protests against the measure that grew to as large as 85,000 people praised the victory, even if it could be fleeting.

“It tells legislators ‘You can’t be arrogant,'” said Marty Beil, executive director of the state’s largest public employee union. “You have to do it in the light of day. You can’t take stuff away from people in a backroom deal.”

Mary Bell, president of the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she hoped the judge’s ruling would lead to lawmakers reconsidering passing the law again.

“It is not in the best interest of students, schools or Wisconsin’s future to take the voices of educators out of our classrooms,” Bell said in a statement. “We’ve seen how this issue has polarized our state.”

The last time the Legislature took up the issue, tens of thousands of protesters, including many teachers, descended on Madison in a futile attempt to persuade lawmakers to reject the proposal. The protests lasted for weeks and made Wisconsin the center of a national debate on union rights. Meanwhile, all 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois to prevent a 20-member quorum to pass the bill. Senate Republicans eventually called a special committee meeting with roughly two hours’ notice so it could amend the bill to take out spending items to avoid the quorum requirement.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi noted in her ruling Thursday that the open meetings law typically calls for 24-hours’ notice of meetings, or, in cases with just cause, two hours. Sumi said nothing justified such short notice and declared the law void.

“Our form of government depends on citizens’ trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government,” she wrote.

The Legislature’s budget committee’s Republican co-chairs reacted by labeling Sumi an “activist” judge. Sumi was appointed to the bench by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Walker pushed for the law as a way to help balance the state budget that was projected to be $3.6 billion short when he introduced the proposal in February. Walker was counting on the savings to help blunt the impact of more than $1 billion in aid cuts to schools and local governments he’s calling for in his budget, which could be ready to be debated in the Senate and Assembly in mid-June.

Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor would have no comment. Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would discuss his options with the state’s attorneys, but whether there’s an attempt to pass the bill again in the Legislature will depend largely on what the Supreme Court does.

Wisconsin Department of Justice executive assistant Steve Means said Sumi’s ruling was disappointing and that he was confident the Supreme Court would overturn the decision. The Justice Department argued that the lower court judge had no authority to block enactment of a bill passed by the Legislature.

Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County district attorney who argued for striking down the law, said he was now focused on preparing for the Supreme Court arguments.

On Wednesday, the day before the ruling, the Justice Department sent Sumi a letter urging her to consider recusing because she appears biased against the Republicans. The agency pointed to a brief she filed with the Supreme Court outlining her belief that she has the authority to void a law if the open meetings law was violated during its passage, saying she shouldn’t have set out her position before she issued a decision.

A message left at Sumi’s chambers Thursday wasn’t immediately returned.

The collective bargaining law called for public workers at all levels, from janitors at the state Capitol to local librarians, to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, resulting in savings to the state of $300 million through mid-2103. The law also strips them of their right to collectively bargain any work conditions except wages. Police and firefighters are exempt.

Associated Press writer Jason Smathers contributed to this report.

More from the collective bargaining lawsuit

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  1. As go the unions, so go the wages and benefits for ALL workers. Some people just don’t seem to understand that concept. Instead of attempting to LOWER the living standards of all workers, why not work together to bring the standards UP for all people. Guess that is just too socialist a concept for some. But it will hurt everyone in the end.

  2. Irwin Fletcher

    We can no longer finance our standard of living with debt. It’s time for a reality check.

  3. Your right as rain Kathy, a rising tide lifts all boats and unions have been that tide for the last 80 years giving us the great middle class that spent and leveraged their rising wages and benefits to create demand for goods and services, allowing business to grow and profit from this growing demand creating millionaires and turning them into billionaires — I guess you could call that, shared prosperity —- unions assured the middle class a seat at the table, a fare share of the profits that would be used to buy the new car or better house or cabin up north or send their kids to collage ——— Now you say what’s left of the middle class needs a reality check ? —- the reality is big business and its political allies have succeeded in breaking unions and beating workers wages and benefits down to a point that the consumer is broke. What’s needed is workers to stand together again and demand a seat at the table, it’s the only way to bring balance back to the economy — when 10% of the population control the vast majority of wealth in this country and now working people are told they must sacrifice and lower their standard of living why the supper rich and powerful are asked to sacrifice nothing —- Maybe you’re right, workers do need a reality check —- its time to stand together and stop this down ward spiral in workers standard of living

  4. Irwin Fletcher

    Joe, remember this: Unions MUST have businesses to survive. Unions are OPTIONAL for businesses.

    Keep trying to bleed more out of the golden goose. It has worked so well for the UAW, no?

    In order to survive one must compete. It does not matter if you are a business, sports team or labor. You put forth a plan that has nothing to do with improving labor’s ability to compete. That is why organized labor is failing. When I am looking to buy something I look for value (not necessarily low price). Labor must come to the table with it’s “value proposition”. You must be able to make the case for why should someone “buy” labor from a union?

  5. ‘Joe’ you are absolutely correct. ‘Irwin’ your schtick is getting really old. You ARE correct that ‘unions’ are optional. What you forget is that business can’t operate without WORKERS — and workers that are oppessed and have no buying power are not going to fuel the need for more businesses. There is a symbiosis that is necessary for the system to work. Making it too top heavy with only rewarding business owners means it will eventually (and possibly sooner than later) topple down. I think that process is already in place. As they say, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip – and us turnips may not even have much turnip juice left to squeeze out.

  6. Irwin Fletcher

    Oh, workers are so oppressed Sudsy. Spare me. Yep, GM, Ford and Chrysler needed to compensate highschool drop outs $75/hr for knowing the difference between “lefty loosey, righty tighty”. The the unions wonder why companies move jobs. Dah.

    MPS teachers need that Viagra. (too many jokes to be made there) Funny how districts such as Janesville and MPS “ask” the union to agree to the pension contribution outlined in the budget repair bill and what do the tell the districts? Go pound sand. Yet, in the media the unions SCREAMED loud and far that “We agreed to everything in the budget repair bill, why deny us collective bargaining?”. Clearly unions give NOTHING unless their hands are forced.

    Companies will have no problem finding people that want to work. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the people that want to work do not belong to unions.

  7. What a poor opinion you have of your fellow human beings. I do feel sorry for you. You like to stress the outlier issues (the headline grabbers) and ignore true underlying problems caused when there is a wide disparity between an overclass of haves and an underclass in a society. The bigger the divide and the larger the underclass, the worse problems become. Just take a look at the middle east and Africa and you’ll see what happens when disparities grow too large.

    I wonder what made you think and feel the way you do? I must say I totally disagree with you that only non-union people ‘want to work.’ That is very disingenuous reasoning. The unions had already negotiated and gave up economics 2 years ago (no raises, and furlough days that cut pay by 3% each year) but noone ever mentions that. They were willing to come to the table again with the new administration – but our new gov refused and simply through them out with no negotiation. What does that say? It says you are not worth my time. Do we want to work? Yes. Are we valued by our boss? Absolutely not.

  8. Well said Sudsy, but instead of pity Fletch needs to study history and take a good look at what life was like for the working class before unions, 12 hour days, no healthcare, no pension, no workers comp, no work place safety, Child labor, wage discrimination between races and gender, no overtime — and not much hope of a better life for their sons and daughters ——Understand this fletch, Unions bettered the conditions of workers not some benevolent hand that swept down and made the rich and powerful suddenly treat there works with dignity and respect. You say unions give nothing unless there hand is forced — well I guess the working class learned that lesson from the rich and powerful — Works fought and died to form and join unions, it was and still is the best way for workers to get a fair wage for fair days work.

  9. Sudsy and Joe, you just brought a tear to my eye…

    Having grown up in Flint, Michigan I have studied plenty with regard to the history of unions. Yes unions had their place. Now we have OSHA and other government agencies to monitor safe work conditions and impose regulations. Days of the sweat shops, union or non-union are gone.

    As a construction company, we must compete for jobs. As workers, unions must compete for jobs. It’s really very simple. If you price any product or service too high, the buyers will go elsewhere. It makes no difference if it is a building or the labor to produce something. Don’t whine to me if you price yourself out of a job. Compete or die. It is the natural order of things.

  10. Fletch,
    I think those tears are begining to soften your contempt of anything union. You say unions had their place but are no longer needed because workers have all these great government protections now — well current events here and in other states show what the government gives can be easily taken away. In all of our back and forth Fletch you seem to miss the point, it’s all about balance, Capitalism by its nature is not compassionate and is more governed by power and greed than most would care to admit. If Capitalism is to work for everyone, then everyone needs a seat at the table. Capitalism breaks down when one side holds all the cards, one only needs to look at history to see no one wins in the long term when that happens. Workers need a voice and unions for better or worse are the best at providing that voice or balance.
    Being in a building trades union I and my fellow tradesmen are keenly aware of the dynamics of market share and competitiveness that’s why my fellow union members spend over $1.5 million dollars annually of their own money (no government involvement) on training our apprentices and upgrading our skills. That’s going back into our industry to make sure the customer that uses our services gets the best value for their dollar. We partner with our contractors and work together to compete against non-union contractors every day, do we win every bid, no, but in my 35 plus years I have seen my union membership grow and gain market share so I guess we win more than we lose. You can choose to believe it or not, we work hard to make our contractors money and stay completive, my union makes sure that I am fairly compensated for that hard work , in the end we both win, our contractors makes his profits and we earn a fair wage. Fletch I don’t know what type of union you have had experience with and I guess it really doesn’t matter to me, but if you ever are interested really finding out what a union is and what it does for it members I would gladly invite you to our hall and training center for a cup of coffee

  11. Thanks for the offer Joe. I have been a union member (carpenter) as has my wife (teacher). Been there, done that.

    Recently we contacted the union to help with some wage concessions while pursuing a job against non-union competition. The unions said “no dice, we do not offer concessions until the general contractor is selected (we are a general)” We won the job based on a very aggressive strategy, without union help. Then the unions called wanting us to shop the low non-union numbers to them so their contractors could be low. TOTALLY UNETHICAL. If the unions want to get a job, they need to help get it up front. It’s called competing.

    In my 25 or so years in the construction industry I cold regale you with any number of union horror stories and I think the trades unions are some of the better ones.

    What sets union trades people apart is the temporary nature of the work. The union cannot prevent a worker from getting laid off when a job slows down. The least productive worker gets laid off first. Gee, that provides motivation to be productive.

    Teachers, UAW and any host of other unions that have layoffs based on seniority do not foster the same work ethic. Those unions foster a sense of entitlement and an acceptance of mediocrity.

    As my first superintendent told me “You will have a job as long as you make the boss money”. Truer words were never spoken. (and there is nothing wrong with the boss making money)

  12. Well Fletch things are looking up, I agree there is nothing wrong with the boss making money, I hope a lot of money because in my world it means that labor and management worked together to get the job done on time and on budget with a happy customer to boot. It a win win deal, contractor makes money and grows his business and my union brothers and sisters get a fair wage, quality health care and a livable pension.
    Your right again, there is no seniority in my pipe trades union “you’re as good as your last day of work “ that’s why my union takes training so seriously we have a skill based referral system so the more skills you have the more opportunities for employment and staying employed. My union experience is based in the construction trades so I will not pass judgment on other unions, but I do think your comments on the UAW are off base. The troubles in the auto industry cannot be all laid at the union auto workers feet — If an auto manufacture cares only about short term profits and nothing about customer satisfaction and designs a cheap inferior product that the customer does not want, guess what — that’s exactly what will be built on the assembly line. Having the best trained highest skilled motivated work force will not change that outcome. —- That offer of a cup of coffee (when you’re ready) still stands

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