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Unions seek injunction to block law implementation

Associated Press

Opponents of Gov. Scott Walker making their voices heard in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Madison on Feb. 20. Unions are asking a court to issue an injunction to stop implementing portions of the law found to be unconstitutional. (AP Photo/State Journal, John Hart)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Unions challenging Gov. Scott Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers have asked a court to stop the state from implementing portions of the law found to be unconstitutional.

The request for an injunction was filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Monday.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas in September overturned the collective bargaining law as it pertained to school and local government workers in Milwaukee and Madison, the two cities where public workers filed the lawsuit. There has been confusion over whether that applied statewide or just in those two cities.

The Department of Justice tried and failed to have the original September court ruling put on hold while pending the outcome of an appeal.

Despite not being able to halt the ruling, Walker’s administration is moving forward with writing administrative rules that would implement portions of the law found to be null and void, the unions said in their injunction request. They said an injunction would make clear that such work has to stop.

“By implementing and enforcing a law determined to be unconstitutional, they are saying ‘We are above the law. That is intolerable,'” said John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., in a statement. His union and the Public Employees Local 61, AFL-CIO, which represents city of Milwaukee workers, filed the lawsuit and injunction request.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who is defending the law, had no comment Tuesday.

The injunction request, filed with Colas, argues that the Walker administration and his appointees on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission are “pursuing an alternative strategy of disregarding the court’s decision.” It cites an email sent April 5 by Peter Davis, attorney for the WERC, indicating that the commission was moving ahead with implementing administrative rules unless a court orders it to stop.

The state has argued that WERC isn’t covered by Colas’ ruling.

A court-ordered injunction “merely makes explicit the practical effects of the court’s ruling,” the unions’ filing said.

The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 applied to all public employees except police, firefighters, local transit workers and emergency medical service employees. It limits collective bargaining on wage increases to the rate of inflation. Other issues, such as workplace safety, vacation and health benefits, were excluded from collective bargaining.

In his original ruling, Colas said the law violates school and local employees’ constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation because it caps union workers’ raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts.

The decision allowed schools and local governments to bargain with their employees, and several, including those in Madison, acted quickly to take advantage of the window to reach new contacts.

Van Hollen argued that the ruling created widespread confusion among employers because the status of the law was unclear.

The lawsuit is widely expected to ultimately end up before the state Supreme Court. Walker and Van Hollen have both said they expect to prevail on appeal.

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