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Dane County judge strikes down part of Act 10

by Ruth Conniff, Wisconsin Examiner
July 4, 2024

In a decision released late Wednesday, on the eve of the July 4th holiday, Dane County Judge Jacob Frost struck down part of Act 10, the Wisconsin law that ended most collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

The law unfairly exempted public safety workers from the limits on unions, Frost ruled.

Labor unions representing those classified under the law as “general public employees” argued in the case that the exemption  from the law for police, fire fighters and other public safety employees violated the equal protection clause of the Wisconsin Constitution.

State agencies and officials responsible for enforcing the challenged provisions of Act 10 filed a motion to dismiss. The state Legislature also intervened in the case, arguing  for dismissal on the grounds that the 13-year time lapse since Act 10 took effect rendered the lawsuit too late. Frost rejected the motions to dismiss. He also ruled that “Act 10’s division of public employees into public safety and general employee categories lacks a rational basis” and therefore violates the equal protection clause because it is based on an “irrational or arbitrary classification.”

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Act 10, signed by then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, triggered historic protests. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites descended on the Capitol and Democratic legislators temporarily fled the state, initially depriving the Republican-controlled Legislature of the votes needed to pass the law.

Under Act 10, general public employee unions  can only  bargain over very base wage increases no greater than inflation, must obtain annual approval through recertification elections and are prohibited from collecting dues directly from members’ paychecks. The law also  limits collective bargaining agreements to a one-year term. Act 10 also required general employees to pay the full employee-required contribution towards the Wisconsin Retirement System and imposed a cap on employer contributions towards health insurance premiums for general employees. None of those limits and requirements were applied to public safety employees unions.

Reacting to Wednesday’s decision, state Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard said in a statement, “This ruling confirms that Act 10 created divisions among working people in Wisconsin, and reinforces the principle that workers must be treated equally under the law.”

“When I, and countless others, protested at the Capitol in 2011 – we were standing up for these rights,” Agard added. “While we celebrate this pro-labor ruling tonight, we must not stop until Act 10 is overturned and collective bargaining is restored for all public sector workers.”

State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly also released a statement reacting to the ruling and tying it to the July 4 holiday. 

“The right to organize one’s co-workers into a union, and then collectively bargain, is a fundamental American right.,” Underly said. “It is fitting that we will celebrate the restoration of those rights for many workers this Independence Day.”

“Act 10 was used to justify massive cuts in school funding that continue to cause challenges to this day.,” Underly added. “To protect the right of every child to a quality education, now is a perfect time to reinvest in local schools and reinvest in the future of Wisconsin.”

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, called the ruling “another example of courts legislating from the bench.

“Once again, the only way the Democrats can get their way is through activist judges dropping decisions on a holiday weekend when no one is watching,” LeMahieu said. “Unfortunately, if this decision stands, it will cost Wisconsin’s hard-working families millions of dollars.”

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and X.

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