Our views: Union ruling sets stage for next act

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Like it or not, last week’s state Supreme Court decision on Wisconsin’s controversial Act 10 accomplished one thing that both sides must acknowledge:

It settles the issue.

Act 10 is constitutional, and its provisions will remain in place unless the Legislature decides otherwise.

Now, it’s time to move on and make the best of the post-Act 10 world.

Act 10 is the legislation initiated by Gov. Scott Walker in early 2011 and approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature that strips nearly all bargaining power from the state’s public employee unions. The unions and their employers still must negotiate wages up to the point of inflation, but that’s all.

Last week’s ruling was the right call. Act 10 was a policy decision that falls within the rights of the Legislature. You might not like it, but that’s a matter to be taken up with the lawmakers who approved it.

Justice Michael Gableman wrote the majority opinion in the 5-2 ruling. He said collective bargaining is not a fundamental right but a benefit that the Legislature can choose to restrict or expand.

“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not a constitutional obligation,” Gableman wrote.

Justice Patrick Crooks, who concurred with the opinion but lamented the loss of effective bargaining, added this perspective: “Such policy questions are for the Wisconsin Legislature and the governor, and their judgment on such policy matters is for the people of Wisconsin to evaluate.”

Is it good policy? Perhaps Act 10 was an overreach with its union-busting provisions, but it addressed a fiscal need in Wisconsin and the school districts and municipalities that receive state aid.

Public employee benefits, specifically pensions and health care, had become overly generous and burdensome on employers, and Act 10 addressed that by requiring employees to contribute their fair shares. The result has saved the state and local governments millions of dollars. Those savings have helped those local governments address state aid cuts and ongoing budget challenges.

While Act 10 removed virtually all bargaining clout from employee unions, it doesn’t mean that public employers can or should run roughshod over their workers.
As Janesville schools Superintendent Karen Schulte stressed in Friday’s Gazette, the local district—and, by extension, other public employers—still must offer attractive working conditions.

“It’s up to us to create good schools with good pay and good benefits to attract and retain the best teachers,” Schulte said. “We need stellar teachers to help students achieve.”

Now that the legal questions surrounding Act 10 are resolved, let’s move forward with a clear understanding that the law is here to stay and that public employers and employees still must work together to ensure that quality workers continue to provide quality services.

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