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Appeals court refuses to reinstate collective bargaining law (UPDATE)

Associated press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin appeals court on Tuesday refused to put on hold a judge’s decision repealing major parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s law that effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had asked Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas to put his September ruling on hold while an appeal was pending. Colas refused in October and the 4th District Court of Appeals upheld that decision Tuesday, meaning portions of the law cannot be enforced.

The appeals court said it saw “no basis to set aside” Colas’ decision. The order does not address the merits of Colas’ original ruling, which has been appealed and is expected to go all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Last year’s ruling overturned the law as it pertained to school and local government workers, but there has been confusion over whether that applied statewide or just in Milwaukee and Madison, the two cities where public workers filed the original lawsuit challenging the law. The appeals court has not yet addressed that issue directly.

The divisive law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 applied to all public employees except police, firefighters, local transit workers and emergency medical service employees. It limits collective bargaining on wage increases to the rate of inflation. Other issues, such as workplace safety, vacation and health benefits, were excluded from collective bargaining.

In his original ruling, Colas said the law violates school and local employees’ constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation because it caps union workers’ raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts.

The decision allowed schools and local governments to bargain with their employees, and several, including those in Madison, acted quickly to take advantage of the window to reach new contacts.

Van Hollen argued in his request for a stay that not taking swift action would lead to chaos and further confusion, given that the law has been in effect for more than a year. Van Hollen also argued that there was confusion over whether the lower court’s ruling was effective statewide.

But the appeals court said that alleged confusion over whether collective bargaining is in place for local government workers statewide is not compelling enough to put the ruling on hold. And it’s hard to imagine how granting a stay of the earlier decision would resolve any of the underlying legal issues or prevent someone from filing a lawsuit, the court said.

“Until the Wisconsin Supreme Court finally resolves the issues, either by issuing a definite ruling on the merits or by issuing an order declining to review a merits decision of this court, it seems that ongoing litigation is inevitable,” the appeals court said.

The law, which Walker claimed was needed to address budget problems, has been the focal point of a broader clash between conservatives and unions over worker rights. Anger over passage of the law largely motivated the effort to recall Walker. He defeated that effort in a June election.

Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, said he was confident the law would be upheld in its entirety just as a federal appeals court did in January based on a different lawsuit filed by seven public unions challenging other parts of the law.

Van Hollen’s spokeswoman, Dana Brueck, said the ruling was disappointing and a decision whether to ask the Supreme Court to issue a stay was under consideration.

Lester Pines, the attorney representing the Madison teachers union that brought the lawsuit, said he was pleased with the decision.

“(Colas) followed the law during his decision,” Pines said. “We’re very happy about this. We look forward to the decision on the substance of the case.”


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