Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds 2011 union law

Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (WLUK/Don Steffens)

MADISON - The law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public employees in Wisconsin has been declared constitutional once again.

The state Supreme Court issued its ruling Thursday morning. The court's ruling was 5-2, with only Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley dissenting.

Justices said the state is not under an obligation to grant collective bargaining abilities. Federal courts have also ruled twice that the law is constitutional.

Act 10, as it's known, limits public workers to bargaining only over base wage increases no greater than inflation. The law also requires public employees to contribute more toward their health insurance and pension costs.

When Governor Walker introduced the proposal in 2011, people protested at the state capitol for weeks.

Many teachers and other public workers opposed the measure, and the Madison teachers union and a union representing Milwaukee Public workers eventually sued.

Governor Walker said Thursday that the ruling proves his reforms work, and he hopes the state can now move on.

Meanwhile, Democrat Mary Burke explained her stance on Act 10.

"I support the right to collectively bargain," said Burke. "I don't believe that that stands in the way of making sure that we have efficient, effective and accountable government."

Burke said she does support the higher employee contributions that Act 10 triggered.

"She's kind of gone this middle, middle ground," said Arnold Shober, a Lawrence University government professor.

Shober believes Burke wants to keep collective bargaining out of the govenor's race.

"I don't think she wants to make the campaign about that again," said Shober. "They tried to do that the last time, the Democrats tried to do that, and it didn't net what they wanted."

Anger over Act 10 led to a 2012 recall election. But Governor Walker won, making him the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.

"Act 10 works," said Walker. "Our reforms work. It is a clear contrast between where we would do affirming that going forward and if we elected somebody new who would chip away at that."

Walker says the law has saved taxpayers more than $3 billion. He attributes that to schools and local governments saving more money because of the higher contributions.

"He's got to feel good that, see I did something that wasn't illegal, that wasn't wrong, that in fact is doing, as he would claim, what I claimed it would," said Shober.

Shober said it isn't clear if Walker's presumed opponent could benefit from taking a firm stance on Act 10.

"Going into this fall, I'm not sure that would help or hurt her one way or the other," he said. "Because the state is so evenly divided, that for her, she should probably avoid as many controversial discourses as possible."

If Burke is elected governor and wants to change parts of Act 10, it could be a challenge. Republicans currently control the state Assembly and Senate, and that may not change next year.

Burke has to win a primary election before she can run against Governor Walker.

On August 12, Burke will face State Rep. Brett Hulsey of Madison. Hulsey said Thursday if he's elected governor, he would call a special legislative session to restore workers' rights.