By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge on Thursday declined to block Wisconsin’s new right-to-work law, allowing it to remain in effect while several unions challenge the statute.
Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust rejected the request by three unions to grant a temporary injunction blocking the law from being enforced pending the outcome of their lawsuit. He said he believes the unions have a chance of winning the case, but he’s not convinced that letting the law stand while the proceedings continue would cause them serious damage.
“The irreparable harm is speculative, in my opinion,” Foust said at the conclusion of the morning hearing.
Right-to-work laws prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Twenty-four other states have such statutes.
Right-to-work supporters say such laws give workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union. Opponents say the laws weaken unions by depriving them of the dues from workers who choose not to pay them, resulting in lower wages and fewer employee rights. They also say the Republican-backed law is intended to undermine unions’ political power because unions tend to vote Democrat.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Machinists Local Lodge 1061 in Milwaukee and United Steelworkers District 2 in Menasha filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the law amounts to an unconstitutional seizure of union property since unions now must extend benefits to workers who don’t pay dues.
Union attorney Frederick Perillo told the court that the law essentially requires the organizations to provide free services to nonmembers. He said if the law is allowed to stand, unions will expend their resources helping nonmembers. That could have serious repercussions, such as draining unions of the funding they would need to defend workers in disputes, which in turn could cost such workers their jobs, he argued.
Perillo went on to say that if Foust ultimately finds the law unconstitutional, the unions would have no way to recover the dues that nonmembers would have paid in the interim.
Assistant Attorney General David Meany countered that no challenge to right-to-work laws based on the illegal seizure argument has succeeded anywhere in the country. Last year the Indiana Supreme Court rejected two nearly identical challenges to that state’s right-to-work law. Those lawsuits alleged that the law unconstitutionally required unions to provide services to nonunion workers without compensation.
Meany likened Wisconsin’s law to any other business regulation, comparing it to an ordinance that forces liquor stores to close on Saturday nights.
The law doesn’t take anything from the unions since it technically doesn’t remove any money currently in their accounts, he argued. He said if unions lose dues going forward, they could control their expenses by shortening grievance fights and scaling back other services. Employers and unions also could negotiate clauses in their contracts allowing unions to recoup dues from nonmembers if the law is struck down, Meany added.
As for any harm the unions might suffer, the organizations don’t know how many workers might not pay dues and what the effects of losing that potential revenue might be, Meany said.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a likely 2016 presidential candidate who made a name for himself by curbing public unions’ collective bargaining powers in 2011, signed the right-to-work law on March 9. He initially said he didn’t want to pursue the concept, but he quickly signed it after the GOP-led Legislature introduced the measure and passed it in just two weeks. Follow @trichmond1