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A look at the impact of Wisconsin's union law

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Scott Bauer, Associated Press | August 1, 2014

MADISON — The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision Thursday upholding the 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most state workers likely spells the end of the three-year legal fight over Gov. Scott Walker's signature initiative. Here are five repercussions of the ruling:

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LEGAL FIGHT OVER

The state Supreme Court's decision likely spells the end of the three-year legal fight against the 2011 law, those on both sides of the issue agreed. The law had been upheld by two federal appeals courts, and a fourth case that's pending in state courts raises much of the same issues in those that the Supreme Court rejected Thursday. The Supreme Court upheld the law on a 5-2 decision, with the two most liberal justices dissenting. The majority determined that public workers do not have a constitutional right to collectively bargain.

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POLITICAL FIGHT GOES ON

Walker touts the law in his re-election campaign, and should he run for president in 2016 it is likely to be a prominent part of his platform. Even his Democratic challenger for re-election, Mary Burke, supports some parts of the law and has said she would not work to repeal it if elected. However, Burke does say she wants to restore collective bargaining for public workers. And some Republican state lawmakers have said they want to expand the law to include police and firefighters who were excluded in 2011, which Democrats likely would fiercely oppose.

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FUTURE OF BARGAINING

The law limits public sector unions to bargaining only over wage increases no greater than inflation. It also requires a majority vote every year for the unions to stay organized. In the face of that, most public unions chose not to seek official recognition. Attorney Lester Pines, who brought the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Madison teachers union, said unions will have to find new ways to work with employers without collective bargaining, and exactly how that will work remains to be seen. Many schools and local governments have worked together on creating new employee handbooks to replace the collective bargaining agreements.

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RIGHT TO WORK NEXT?

There appears to be little momentum currently for Wisconsin to take the next step and become a "right to work" state, where even private-sector workers could not be required to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday he didn't think the time was right for Wisconsin to do that and did not intend to pursue it next session. Walker has repeatedly been cool to the idea, saying it wasn't a priority and would be a distraction from his agenda, but he hasn't definitely ruled it out.

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QUESTIONS REMAIN

While the Supreme Court upheld the law in its entirety, the opinion did not address what happens to unions that entered into new collective bargaining agreements while the case was pending. The Madison teachers union, which brought the lawsuit, negotiated a contract with the school district earlier this year that extends through 2016. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he didn't know if contracts like that one were valid and he didn't think anyone knew. Van Hollen said he expects lawsuits to be filed over that issue, but the fight over the law itself being constitutional is done.
   



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