Construction, development, right to work and collective bargaining have been the topic of conversation as Wisconsin has again been thrust into the national spotlight for politics as two candidates compete for the next Wisconsin Supreme Court swing seat.
Left-leaning Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Republican former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly are on Tuesday’s ballot.
Protasiewicz has made her opinion on Act 10 clear, saying she supports workers’ rights to collectively bargain.
Kelly, who was previously tapped by then-Gov. Scott Walker for a spot on the Supreme Court, was part of the high court during the union-busting Act 10 legislation.
Both candidates are receiving endorsements from the construction industry for different reasons.
Protasiewicz’s campaign announced Jan. 19 she had the support of the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council in her campaign for the state Supreme Court seat. The district includes five labor unions and covers nearly 9,000 construction craft workers across the state.
“The working men and women of Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council are excited to support Judge Janet Protasiewicz for Supreme Court. She has spent the duration of her long legal career serving the community, protecting working people, and upholding our Constitution and laws. Our members are proud to help elect her to the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Wisconsin Laborer’s District Council President and Business Manager Kent Miller said in a statement.
Sara Geenen, a labor and employment attorney running for Wisconsin Court of Appeals District 1 against incumbent William Brash III, announced Jan. 11 she earned support from LiUNA.
“The Laborers represent more than 9,000 men and women working to keep Wisconsin infrastructure safe and strong. As a labor and employment attorney, I know firsthand the importance and impact unions have for Wisconsin workers,” Geenen said in a social media post.
The IBEW Wisconsin State Conference, which represents all Local Unions and 15,000 members in Wisconsin, also endorsed Protasiewicz for the seat in the state Supreme Court.
“As a judge and veteran prosecutor, Judge Janet Protasiewicz has a strong record of being an impartial champion for Constitutional rights of everyone in our state. For too long the Wisconsin Supreme Court has placed partisan games ahead of common sense and the rule of law, and we know Judge Janet will bring much needed change as the court’s next justice. On behalf of our members across Wisconsin, I’m proud to announce IBEW’s support for Judge Janet’s campaign,” IBEW Wisconsin State Conference President Dean Warsh said in a statement.
The electrical workers’ union also endorsed small business owner and lawyer Jodi Habush Sinykin for State Senate District 8, IBEW officials said. Sinykin is running against Dan Knodl for the seat previously held by Sen. Alberta Darling.
“The State Senate currently holds a gerrymandered supermajority here in Wisconsin and that in no way benefits the working people of Wisconsin. We are long overdue in having a representative in this district that puts the interests of working people and families ahead of partisan politics and that is why on behalf of our members across Wisconsin and in the 8th District, we proudly endorse her campaign for State Senate,” Warsh said.
Geenen also listed the IBEW Wisconsin State Conference as one of her supporters, according to her website.
The Wisconsin Chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 were also supporters of Protasiewicz, the IBEW said.
As previously reported by The Daily Reporter, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin announced March 27 it supports Kelly.
Walker, who appointed Kelly, supported Republican introduced legislation such as Act 10 and right-to-work in Wisconsin, which effectively ended collective bargaining for public employees.
Labor membership in Wisconsin fell dramatically after the passage of Act 10, the anti-public sector collective bargaining bill in 2011, with the sharpest decrease in the nation over the next decade. As of 2021, Wisconsin reached a new low in union membership, just shy of 8% of the total workforce, PBS reported.
When Kelly was asked about his stance on unions and Act 10 in a February interview, Kelly said his feelings toward both were irrelevant to the work of the court. He deferred to the Legislature when asked about right-to-work laws at a luncheon with the Milwaukee Press Club and Rotary Club. However, Kelly’s deleted blog posts revealed his personal views on Act 10 as well as a number of other issues.
The trade association, made mostly of small, non-union shops, chose Kelly for his track record while serving under Walker, ABC of Wisconsin Director of Legal and Government Relations John Schulze told The Daily Reporter. Kelly was the deciding vote to end an extension Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Construction was considered an essential service at the time, but there were still rules and protocols in place deciding what some businesses were permitted to do, Schulze said. The orders were a rule and would have to go through the procedure of similar state rules, he added.
“The way we do things is the Legislation passes it and the governor signs it,” Schulze said.
The winner of this election goes well beyond employment and labor law as the winner of this election may influence the entire country’s presidential election in 2024. When the 2020 presidential election case was before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, one vote decided the outcome of whether or not to overturn the election results.