The Wisconsin Act 10 story took another unexpected turn this past Monday. Those of you that have been following this saga know that Act 10 is the anti-public sector collective bargaining law enacted under the leadership of tea party Governor Scott Walker in 2011. There have been all sorts of bizarre twists and turns in now almost three years of political and judicial fighting among the Walker administration and impacted unions.
Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court is due to hear oral arguments on November 11th on a trial judge’s ruling from September 2012 that Act 10 violates free speech, association, and equal protection rights of public sector union members under the federal and Wisconsin state constitution, there has been quite a side-show in the meantime.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) is tasked with applying Act 10’s onerous recertification provisions, which require public sector unions to annually certify through vote than 51% or more of all members (not just voting members) still wish to be represented by the union. In its previous incarnation, WERC did meaningful public sector employment work in the areas of fact-finding, mediation and arbitration. That function is mostly gone under the Act 10 regime.
In any event, the dispute here is whether Judge Colas’s decision striking down Act 10 only applied to the unions represented in that case or to all public sector unions in Wisconsin. The initial ruling was less than clear in this regard. Because of the ambiguity, WERC has continued to apply the recertification provisions by decertifying the Kensoha teachers union for not seeking recertification and by planning to hold recertification elections in November for other public sector unions.
Judge Colas ruled on Monday that the two WERC Commissioners were in contempt of court for seeking to still apply Act 10 because his ruling applied to all public state and local employees in Wisconsin. WERC has responded by completely ceasing its efforts to apply these provisions of Act 10 in order to purge their contempt.
It is unclear what happens next. On the one hand, I, and most others, suspect that the 4 to 3 conservative-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court will strike down Judge Colas’s decision invalidating Act 10, which makes all this contempt hoopla eventually moot. But when that decision comes down is anyone’s guess, although likely before next summer. On the other hand, the government has indicated that it will seek immediate relief from Judge Colas’s conempt order by asking the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to stay or vacate Judge Colas’s order.
I am somewhat bummed by all this on a personal level. I published what I thought was a comprehensive law review article detailing the entire Act 10 story in the summer of 2012 (shortly before the unsuccessful recall election of Governor Walker), but now I see I might have to write a second part to this saga. Sigh.
This article was originally printed on Workplace Prof Blog on October 23, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Paul Secunda is an associate professor of law at Marquette University Law School. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He co-authored the treatise Understanding Employment Law and the case book Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law. Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country.