MADISON, Wis. — It may be only a temporary restraining order, but the decision of a Wisconsin judge last week to block the state legislature from revoking the collective bargaining rights of public employees reflects the controversial nature of the action and keeps it before ever-increasing citizen wrath.

Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi, appointed by former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, issued the temporary restraining order, barring Wisconsin’s secretary of state from publishing the law, effectively staying its implementation.

The challenge accuses Republican lawmakers — who control both the Wisconsin House and Senate — of violating the state’s requirement for open meeting requirements when they passed the law. It is alleged that because Democratic members of the legislature were not present, the open meeting requirements were violated.

An appeal to a higher court of the temporary restraining order is expected this week, and Judge Sumi also later could permit the law to be published following a hearing she scheduled to begin March 28.

Additionally, Wisconsin Republicans, who control the legislature, could bring the bill up again for a vote, now that Democratic members — who had fled in an earlier unsuccessful attempt to block the law’s passage — have returned.

“We highly doubt a Dane County judge has the authority to tell the legislature how to carry out its constitutional duty,” said Republican Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Republican Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald.

The fight is far from over in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

It's not just Wisconsin. UTU members participate in a rally in Lansing, Mich., last week where the legislature there is considering bills whose intent is union busting. Similar rallies are taking place nationwide as union members and non-union members are speaking as one against the assault by right-wing extremists against collective bargaining rights.

 

As expected, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin House of Representatives March 10 approved state senate passed legislation revoking collective bargaining rights for public employees.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Scott Walker who promises to sign it into law.

Noting the size and geographic scope of public protests against the legislative assault on collective bargaining rights, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has named Walker “Mobilizer of the Year” for the labor movement.

Trumka predicts the Wisconsin assault on collective bargaining rights will create a national backlash against extremist conservatives.

“Now they’re seeing what backlash really looks like,” Trumka said. “It’s like the old song goes, ‘’You ain’t seen nothing yet.'”

Recall efforts are expected against state lawmakers in Wisconsin and elsewhere who have backed legislation revoking collective bargaining rights for state employees.

In addition to revoking public-employee collective bargaining rights, the Wisconsin legislation cancels state collection of union dues from paychecks, and requires unions to hold annual representation elections.

The Republican controlled Wisconsin state senate, with all Democrats still absent, passed a bill late Wednesday, March 9, stripping from public employees almost all collective bargaining rights.

The vote was 18-1, with a lone Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz, voting “no.”

A vote in the Republican-controlled Wisconsin House is expected Thursday.

“In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mark Miller. “Tonight, 18 senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.” It was a half-century ago that the Wisconsin legislature gave public employees a right of collective bargaining.

Wisconsin’s union-busting bill had been stalled after senate Democrats fled the state three weeks ago to prevent a necessary quorum for the Republican majority to pass the legislation. But Republicans stripped from the legislation all spending provisions, which allowed the bill, under the state senate’s parliamentary procedures, to be voted on without a quorum.

The Associated Press reports that prior to the vote, Republicans had been considering concessions earlier offered by Gov. Scott Walker. But when, according to the Associated Press, union leaders and senate Democrats said the concessions weren’t enough, the Republican majority changed tactics, stripping the spending provisions from the bill and voting it out.

There was more bad news for union members and collective bargaining rights.

In Michigan, March 9, the senate passed legislation giving cities and school districts authority to terminate union contracts and end collective bargaining rights for public employees. A similar bill was previously passed by the Republican-controlled Michigan House of Representatives. Once the slight differences in the bills are resolved, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bill into law.

In Ohio, where the state senate already voted to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees, the Republican-controlled House is preparing to consider the bill.

In Indiana, a three-week standoff continues after 40 House Democrats fled the state to prevent a quorum and stall legislation revoking public-employee collective bargaining rights. A labor-rally, expected to draw some 20,000, is scheduled for the state capital Thursday.

And in Idaho, the House and Senate have passed legislation stripping collective bargaining rights for teachers. The governor is expected to sign it into law.

Rallies in support of public-employee collective bargaining are being held in scores of cities across America to protest legislative efforts in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin to revoke that right.

A new attack on public-employee collective bargaining was launched Feb. 23 in Idaho, reports UTU Idaho State Legislative Director George Millward. Idaho Senate bill 1024 would prohibit state employees from joining unions and outlaw strikes. The UTU will participate in an AFL-CIO meeting this weekend to formulate opposition, Millward said.

UTU members wishing to participate in a rally supporting collective-bargaining rights for public employee should contact their state legislative director, as no formal schedule exists. Most rallies, in dozens of states, are being coordinated by state branches of the AFL-CIO.

Meanwhile, newspaper editorials and opinion articles are exposing legislative efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights as union-busting tactics with no legitimate connection to state financial problems.

Here is a sampling:

Nationally syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson:

“It has long been common for unions to accept better health and pension benefits in lieu of higher salaries — in effect, taking the money later rather than sooner. Now that these IOUs are coming due, Wisconsin wants to renege. I thought Republicans were supposed to believe that a contract is a contract, sacred and inviolate. Guess not. This is pure, unadulterated union busting.”

Stanford University law professor William B. Gould IV, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board:

“It is downright obscene to strip workers of unions while deficit-spending tax breaks to the rich are being handed out as they are in Wisconsin. As the United States has argued for South Africa, Poland and now Egypt, unions are a basic part of democratic society. Yet that is the principal under attack by Gov. Walker in Wisconsin now. The answer is not to destroy the democratic fabric and the political opposition, but rather to engage in dialogue.”

Linda Kaboolian, lecturer in public policy at Harvard:

“Gov. Walker isn’t interest in saving money. He’s interested in crippling the unions that didn’t support him last fall.”

New York Times editorial:

“Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle-class state workers, who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda. Conservative leaders in most states with strong unions have in the past generally made accommodations with organized labor, often winning support on social issues in return. That changed this year after wealthy conservatives poured tens of millions of dollars into the election campaigns of hard-right candidates.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page:

“Without the right to collective bargaining, a union is little more than a social club.”

Gallup poll survey:

“While the public has ambivalent feelings toward public sector unions, they say they oppose any move by their state to eliminate collective bargaining rights by about a 2-to-1 margin.”

Madison, Wisc.,Capital Times editorial:

“Gov. Walker has made too many budget decisions not with an eye toward fiscal responsibility but with an eye toward rewarding his political benefactors. Now the governor says that Wisconsin needs to end collective bargaining for public employees and teachers. This is simply absurd. This is not about the money. This is not a fiscal crisis. This is a political crisis. And Walker has the power to resolve it by refocusing on fiscal issues, as opposed to pursuing the political goal of breaking unions.”

Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein:

“Unions — through collective bargaining, strikes and other means — give workers power. They also make negotiations less lopsided … unions tend to see their constituents as not just their own members, but the ‘working class’ broadly defined. That’s why you’ll find labor’s fingerprints on everything from the two-day weekend to Medicare to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 — none of which require you to flash a union card before you can benefit from them.”

Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin:

“If you read the [Wisconsin] bill … the union busting is in pretty plain language. The union can only negotiate salary — but, it turns out, any raises above inflation must be approved by [voter] referendum. You try putting your next raise up for a vote and see how it works out. Under the bill, employers can’t collect dues. And it’s worse than that. Every year, under the bill, union members would have to vote to keep the union certified. You can figure this out. If the union can’t bargain, why would you keep voting to certify it — and also vote to keep paying your dues?

“This comes on the heels of last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, making it easier for corporations to contribute to political campaigns. If I understand the law, the ruling said, in effect, that corporations were people. And public-sector employees? The jury is still out.”