A Wisconsin circuit judge in Madison today ruled that the Wisconsin Senate violated the state’s Open Meetings law when it passed a law last March that deprives most Wisconsin public sector workers of their right to collective bargaining. Based on her ruling, Judge Maryann Sumi issued a permanent injunction to halt implementation of the law.
“This morning Judge Sumi upheld what we knew in the beginning, that the law stripping hundreds of thousands of public employees of their rights was passed illegally, in the dead of the night through a back door maneuver,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. “The people have been clear from day one; they have stood together in the streets of Madison and in the streets around the state to express that this law is too extreme for Wisconsin. Today, democracy was upheld. We hope that the Supreme Court will consider the careful review conducted by Judge Sumi and support her conclusion.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hold a hearing on June 6 to determine whether it will consider an appeal challenging Judge Sumi’s decision. Republicans hold a majority of seats on the state Supreme Court.
Judge Sumi last March issued a temporary injunction that temporarily halted implementation of the bill after a suit was filed charging that the state Senate had violated state Open Meeting laws when a Senate committee convened an emergency hearing on the bill.
Gov. Scott Walker in February sent a budget repair bill to the Wisconsin Legislature that in addition to increasing the amount that state employees contributed to ther health and pension plans took away the right of most state, county, and municipal workers to bargain collectively. It also barred the state from collecting dues for unions, a practice performed by most employers whose workers belong to a union, and required public sector unions to hold representation elections every year.
Scott’s so-called budget repair bill set off a wave protest that saw the state Capitol occupied by union members and their supporters; hundreds of thousands of people also took to the streets for a month-long protest against Gov. Walker’s anti-worker proposal.
Fourteen Democratic state senators left Wisconsin to prevent the quorum needed to pass Walker’s proposal. On March 9, lawmakers following Gov. Scott’s orders stripped the budget repair bill of just about everything except the language that barred public sector collective bargaining. Doing so, reduced the quorum standard to a simple majority.
The House quickly passed the stripped down version of the bill and sent it to the Senate. That night at about 4:20 p.m. a Senate committee posted a public notice that it would hold a hearing on the bill. At 6:00 p.m. the committee began the meeting. Sen Peter Barca, the lone Democratic senator at the hearing, objected that the meeting was in violation of the Open Meetings law because the law requires that public notices for emergency meetings like this one be posted at least two hours before the meeting convenes.
Judge Sumi ruled that by ignoring the state’s Open Meetings requirements, lawmakers rendered their subsequent action invalid. “The legislators were understandably frustrated by the stalemate on March 9, but that does not justify jettisoning compliance with the Open Meetings law,” wrote Judge Sumi in her ruling. “Moreover, if there is any doubt as to the committee’s awareness of its violation, one need only read the transcript of the committee’s March 9 proceedings.”
“Scott Walker and the Republicans broke the law that night,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer. “This is a democracy, not a dictatorship, and Judge Sumi’s decision today makes it final that the union busting bill was passed illegally and will not stand.”