Wisconsin anti-worker law put on hold; first recall petition filed

A Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge on Friday extended a temporary restraining order that halts implementation of Act 10, the anti-worker bill passed in March by the Wisconsin Legislature. Act 10 deprives public employees of their right to collective bargaining and cuts their take home pay by raising employee contributions for health care and pensions. In related news, the first recall petition was filed Friday after union activists and their supporters gathered more than 22,000 on a petition to recall state Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, an Act 10 supporter.

Judge Maryann Sumi on Friday ruled that the temporary restraining order that she issued on March 18 would remain in effect until she has had time to decide whether the state senate violated state open meeting laws when it passed Act 10 in March. Sumi ordered both sides to submit briefs on the matter and set a deadline of May 23 for submissions.

The day before, Sumi ruled that Act 10 was not in effect even though the state Legislative Reference Bureau had published the bill. Judge Sumi on March 18 had instructed Secretary of State Doug La Follette not to publish Act 10 until she had time to hear arguments on both sides of a civil action filed by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who argued that senators had violated the open meeting law because they didn’t give sufficient notice prior to a hearing on the bill.

La Follette complied with the order, but a few days later Wisconsin’s Legislative Reference Bureau published Act 10, and Republican state leaders, including Gov. Scott Walker, said that they would ignore Judge Sumi’s ruling and begin implementing Act 10. But after Thursday’s ruling Gov. Walker said that he would obey the judge’s ruling.

Act 10 among other things prohibits the state’s public employees from bargaining collectively on health and pension benefits, working conditions, and disciplinary procedures. It only allows bargaining on wages, but restricts wage increases to increases in the cost of living.

Furthermore, the act discontinues the state’s collection of union dues, a common practices of employers whose workers belong to unions, and requires unions to be recertified every year. Act 10 also increases employee contributions for health and pension benefits, which in effect reduces worker take home pay by an average of 8 percent.

Seven unions on Wednesday asked the judge to let them file an amicus, or friend of the cour, brief in the matter. The request was made by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFSCME District 24, AFSCME District 40, AFSCME District 48, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, SEIU-Healthcare Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

In their pleadings, the unions said that “Given the impact of the Act on their collective bargaining rights, thousands of the unions’ members sought to participate in the legislative process regarding the passage of the Act, but were denied the right to do so by the alleged constitutional and open meetings law violations.”

On Friday, representatives of the Democratic party in La Crosse filed a petition to recall Sen. Kapanke. The petition contained 22,661 signatures collected by volunteers without the help paid canvassers. The 22,000 plus signatures, substantially more than the 15,588 signatures required to force a recall election, were gathered in about three weeks, much less time than the 60-day time limit.

The state’s Government Accountability Board now has 31 days to determine whether there are enough valid signatures on the petition to force a new election. If there are sufficient signatures, the recall election would take place this summer.

Union activists played a key role in gathering the signatures. Public sector unions like SEIU and AFSCME mobilized members to participate in the recall effort. Private sector unions like the United Steelworkers also mobilized members.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that organizers of the recall effort against Sen. Randy Hooper of Fond du Lucwere close to collecting the number of signatures they want on the recall petition, which could lead to a second filing soon. 

Unions and their supporters have identified eight Republican senators, who voted for Act 10, as targets for recall campaign. Work to collect signatures on a recall petition  is underway in all their districts.

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