Since taking office on January 3, Republican Governor Scott Walker waged war on public workers and their unions, aiming to restrict collective bargaining rights to wage negotiations before ending them altogether.
He also demanded draconian health insurance and pension contribution increases, doubling them for state employees during hard times when they’re already strapped to make ends meet. Doing so called for pay cuts ranging from 8 – 20% ahead of more planned reductions coming.
On March 9, a protracted Senate battle ended when hard-line Republicans violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law, requiring 24 hours notice prior for special sessions unless giving it is impossible or impractical.
At issue was passing an old-fashioned union-busting law with no Democrats present, brazen politicians and corrupted union bosses selling out rank and file members for self-enrichement and privilege, complicit with corporate CEOs.
The epic battle ended along party lines after State Assembly members past Walker’s bill 53 – 42, following the Senate voting 18 – 1 with no debate. The measure reads:
“This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit-down, stay-in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls. Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes just cause for discharge.”
In addition, the governor may unilaterally declare “state of emergency” authority to fire striking workers, and under the section titled, “Discharge of State Employees:”
“The Governor may issue an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the state or any portion of the state if he or she determines that an emergency resulting from a disaster or imminent threat of a disaster exists.”
In other words, he can dictatorially do what he wishes, especially regarding public worker rights and job security. They’re gone unless resurrected by a sustained, mobilized, united, and committed mass action statewide shutdown for rights too important to lose.
Other provisions stipulated worker responsibility for half their pension contributions, and minimally 12.6% of healthcare premiums. In addition, future pay raises are pegged to annual CPI increases, a rigged index not reflecting true inflation. Greater ones may only be approved by statewide referendum, a cumbersome process taking time.
Further, unions must hold annual votes to let workers decide whether or not to be members, and state authorities no longer will collect union dues from paychecks.
Dane County Judge Strikes Down Anti-Union Law
On May 27, Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi rescinded Walker’s bill in a 33-page decision, ruling Republican lawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law.
On March 18, she placed it on temporary hold, but Thursday’s ruling voided it, pending an appeal to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court that may reverse her.
Nonetheless, Dane County Democrat District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, said, “It’s what we were looking for,” acknowledging the war isn’t won, pending the higher court ruling. “The supremes are the supremes,” he said. “They can do what they want.”
Ozanne sued to block Walker’s bill after Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D. Kenosha) filed a complaint about not being given lawful notice.
Expecting bill supporters to denounce her, Sumi cited “clear and convincing evidence” that Wisconsin’s open meetings law was violated, one lawmakers are bound to uphold. She also said it carried constitutional force because its provisions say the Legislature’s doors must remain open when in session.
In fact, while Republicans met in conference committee, only one entrance was open, police blocking people trying to enter. As a result, Sumi wrote:
“The Legislature and its committees are bound to comply with the open meetings law by their own choice. Having made that choice, they cannot now shield themselves from the provisions that give the law force and effect.”
Afterward, Walker said Wisconsin’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on June 6, then decide whether to take the case, adding:
“Either it will be resolved like that – through the Supreme Court – or we’ll look at alternatives with the Legislature,” suggesting union-busting will pass, whatever it takes to do it. In fact, Republicans must by June 30 to be part of the 2011 – 2013 state budget deadline.
Marquette University Law Professor Rick Esenberg said Sumi’s decision didn’t surprise him, adding:
“She had clearly indicated that was her view. (But) you had the sense that she had established that she wasn’t going to rule this early, (yet) apparently decided she needed to do it.”
Other issues are also in play, including recall petition drives, potentially targeting nine senators, six Republicans and three Democrats.
On July 12, recall elections will be held. In addition, two lawsuits were filed, other court challenges expected later. Moreover, if Republicans defeat open meeting violation charges, the legislation itself may be challenged, given its assault on longstanding rights, summarily annulled tyrannically.
As of now, however, a protracted battle perhaps looms, facing long odds of winning unless enough people power decides losing is not an option and will go to the wall to prevent it. Stay tuned. As Wisconsin goes, perhaps the nation.