MILWAUKEE (AP) — The administrative agency that oversees employee union elections in Wisconsin can decertify collective-bargaining groups if they don’t file election paperwork on time for an election — even if they miss the deadline by an hour, the state’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.
The decision reverses lower court rulings that sided with the unions’ argument that the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission overstepped its authority when it went ahead with decertification procedures after the plaintiffs missed a filing deadline by about an hour in 2014.
The case stems from Wisconsin’s so-called Act 10 law, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, required them to pay more for their pension and health benefits, and weakened their ability to organize. The law, enacted shortly after Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office in 2011, also required annual recertification elections to take place for state and municipal employees by Dec. 11.
The commission’s rules require unions that want to hold recertification elections to file necessary paperwork by the end of the business day on Sept. 15 in any given year.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court said the commission “has express authority” to “require a demonstration of interest from labor organizations interested in representing collective bargaining units.” The Supreme Court went on to say the commission also has the power to decertify unions.
The unions involved in the case are: The Wisconsin Association of State Prosecutors, which represents assistant district attorneys, and the Service Employees International Union Local 150, which represents food-service workers and custodians in Milwaukee Public Schools and the St. Francis School District.
Walker and conservatives have said the law is needed to help balance the state budget and reduce school and local governments’ costs.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented, saying state law requires the commission to hold elections for collective bargaining units because the statute reads it “shall,” making it clear that elections need to be carried out.
“In other words, each requires that an election be held annually. Full stop. No conditions,” she said.
She went on to say the court’s decision has “drastic consequences for employees.”
“It denies blameless employees the right to vote for union representation if their union narrowly misses a deadline,” she said.