Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos Friday said he hoped the Wisconsin Supreme Court would not relitigate conservative reforms like Act 10 and right to work, which stamped out collective bargaining rights for public employee unions in the state. Delafield-based Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) in April asked the Wisconsin Legislature to “enshrine” the controversial laws into the Wisconsin Constitution in the form of a constitutional amendment.
The IRG appeal included reforms lawmakers rolled out under former Gov. Scott Walker ranging from school choice to right to work’s union-crushing effects. IRG officials said those conservative reforms would now be at stake after Dan Kelly’s loss to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz in state’s Supreme Court swing seat.
As previously reported, Protasiewicz described Act 10 as “unconstitutional,” and IRG officials said it would be reasonable to question how she would rule on right to work laws that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is likely to be faced with in the coming months.
At a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon Friday, Wisconsin Public Radio Capitol Bureau Chief Shawn Johnson asked Vos for his thoughts on making Act 10 and school choice constitutional amendments.
“We’ve talked about some of those,” Vos said. The speaker noted he wanted to “be an optimist” that the Wisconsin Supreme Court wouldn’t take on Walker-era reforms with Protasiewicz on the bench.
“There was a very deliberate process throughout the entire length of the discussion of whatever the topic is, from right-to-work to school choice to whatever it is. For a Court to step in and argue that its legitimacy is on the line by saying, we’re going to toss out all of these things have been the law for Wisconsin for decades … Now they’re going to arbitrarily say it’s gone. I just don’t believe it’s going to happen. I don’t want to go down the route of using all these amendments, because I want to be an optimist to say the Court is going to try and do its legitimate constitutional role which is look forward and not re-litigate every single thing Wisconsin has been through for the past 30 years,” Vos said, using right to work and school choice as examples.
As previously reported by The Daily Reporter, conservative State Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly explained he would follow the Legislature’s decisions if Walker-era reforms such as right-to-work came to the court.
“If the Legislature repeals the statutes, then as a jurist, they would no longer apply,” Kelly, who served as a member of the IRG before, said at a previous Milwaukee Press Club event.
Signed into law by Walker in 2015, Wisconsin’s “right to work” law prohibits employers and labor unions from entering into an agreement that requires membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). Act 10, which passed in 2011, eliminated some collective bargaining items for public employees and repealed provisions for school districts, according to LRB.
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.
These laws were among examples IRG Chief Legal Counsel and Director of Oversight Anthony LoCoco picked to amend into the State Constitution to “protect some of the most significant conservative wins of the last few decades,” according to the IRG website.
In the memo, LoCoco said reforms enacted or expanded under former Governor Scott Walker are “now at stake,” following the results of the State Supreme Court election.
“Codifying critical policy in the Wisconsin Constitution prevents judicial rulings that the reforms violate the Wisconsin Constitution. In other words, if the Wisconsin Constitution itself mandates these important reforms, that document will provide no basis for striking them down,” according to the memo.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said more people were organizing unions for a better life, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale told The Daily Reporter.
“As unions become increasingly popular across the country and in Wisconsin, more and more people are organizing unions for a better life. The last thing Wisconsin needs is Robin Vos’ political intrusion on a worker’s right to choose a union and bargain collectively. For the Legislature to endeavor on such a thing would be a fool’s errand,” Bloomingdale said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said it wasn’t a surprise IRG was pushing to enshrine Walker-era laws since the former governor himself was chair of the group.
“It’s no surprise that a radical think tank formerly chaired by Scott Walker himself is pushing to enshrine Walker’s extremist anti-worker agenda in our state constitution, and we shouldn’t put it past Robin Vos to go along with it. As we’ve seen time and again over the years, Robin Vos will say or do anything to maintain his grip on power – from the 2018 lame duck session, to supporting Mike Gableman’s disastrous investigation into the 2020 election – so hijacking the Wisconsin Constitution to attack working families would be right up his alley,” the spokesperson added.
Only around 8% of Wisconsin’s active workforce is represented by a union in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Neighboring Great Lakes states such as Illinois had 14.1%, Minnesota had 15.2% and Michigan had 15.3%, according to BLS.
As of publication, Vos did not respond to a request for follow up comments.