The right-to-work law in Wisconsin was declared unconstitutional on Friday. The law bans businesses and unions from entering into contracts that require all workers to pay union dues, regardless of union membership status.
“We are confident Wisconsin’s freedom-to-work law is constitutional and will ultimately be upheld,” Governor Scott Walker wrote on Twitter.
Last year, Walker signed the bill into law and three unions filed a lawsuit against the state immediately afterward. According to the complaint, Wisconsin’s right-to-work law took union property illegally as they would be forced to provide benefits to workers who do not pay dues.
As reported by NBC News, Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust sided with the union’s argument and said the right-to-work law violated the state’s constitution. He ruled the law is equivalent to the government seizing money from the union since the law stipulates that every employee must be represented and provided with services despite nonpayment of dues.
“Plaintiffs will be obligated to spend treasury — their property — on services for which they cannot legally request compensation,” Foust wrote. “This is enough to establish that unions do have a legally protectable property interest at stake.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, who plans to appeal the judge’s decision, said no similar right-to-work laws in other states have been shown to violate the constitution. The attorney general disagrees with the court’s conclusion, since the law does not necessarily take away money that is already in accounts held by the union.
Although no other state court has yet deemed a right-to-work law unconstitutional, Foust said he is not bound by what other states do. Nonetheless, Schimel remains confident the ruling will be eventually overturned.
Some legislators who supported the Wisconsin law also think the ruling will be reversed. The case will likely go on to one of the state’s appeals courts, but the final decision will probably be made by the state Supreme Court.
“Once again, a liberal Dane County judge is trying to legislate from the bench,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a statement. “No one should be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.”
Opponents of the law see the judge’s ruling as a win for middle class, working families. Assembly minority leader Peter Barca said the law was “incredibly harmful” to employees as well as businesses in the state.
Three unions, the Machinists Local Lodge 1061, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, and the United Steelworkers District 2, initially filed the lawsuit. The president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Phil Neuenfeldt, thinks the decision supports the notion that right-to-work laws have always been unfair and violate constitutional rights.
Some contend the law gives employees the opportunity to choose whether to join a union. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, an organization that represents businesses, called the ruling a ridiculous and flawed assumption that obligates workers to pay dues even if they don’t want to.
Meanwhile, others say right-to-work legislation hurts unions by depriving them of money needed to properly represent workers, leading to lower wages and fewer worker rights. They contend that these types of laws do very little to help workers, while negatively impacting businesses and economic growth.
Two years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court refused two similar union lawsuits, alleging that state law unconstitutionally mandated unions give benefits to nonunion workers. Additionally, a federal court ruled in favor of another right-to-work law in Michigan.
Wisconsin is the 25th U.S. state to have right-to-work legislation in place. Due to federal restrictions, the other states’ laws are very similar to each other.
Over the past few years, the number of workers who are also union members has been on the decline in Wisconsin. Last year, only 8.3 percent of workers in the state were union members, significantly down from 11.7 percent in 2014.
Prior to the Wisconsin right-to-work law, employees who were not union members were forced to pay a fee for union services like collective bargaining, contract administration, and other services. The legislation made it illegal to collect these fees.
[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]