The battle which began in January when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took office and started working to fix the state’s budget crisis by reining in the collective bargaining powers of the state’s public employee unions was finally concluded Tuesday when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling which gives Governor Walker a huge victory and unions across the nation a sound thrashing.
Wisconsin has for months taken center stage in the much larger battle over union concessions and collective bargaining rights as states all across the country face budget shortfalls. Wisconsin began drawing national attention when Governor Scott Walker, who took the oath of office in early January, proposed a state budget on February 11 which sought union concessions to help repair the state’s $3.6 billion budget shortfall. Working closely with Republican state legislators, who have controlled both houses of Wisconsin’s legislature since the 2010 midterm elections, Walker sought concessions from the unions that represent the state’s public employees.
Protesting the budget measures, the unions conceded to some of Walker’s demands, and for the first time agreed to pay for some of their healthcare coverage and pension benefits. However, Walker pressed further, seeking an end to the collective bargaining powers Wisconsin’s public employee unions have enjoyed for decades. This drew the attention of every union in the country, all of whom claim collective bargaining as their right and any reduction in collective bargaining powers as the beginning of the end for unions everywhere. Labor union across America joined the fray, with tens of thousands of union members descending on the capitol in Madison protesting the proposals.
Despite attacks coordinated by national unions, and mainstream media coverage of the story sympathetic to union causes designed to drive public opinion to support the plight of the workers, Walker continued the fight, proposing legislation which would end collective bargaining for state employees. Unions nationwide fought back, sending out calls for union members to come to Wisconsin to protest. Tens of thousands did just that and street protests in Wisconsin reached a peak on February 26 when 70,000 to 100,000 union protesters, many from out of state, descended on Madison.
On February 26, the day which saw the largest number of union protesters, I traveled to Madison to interview union representatives and street protesters, to glean some insight into their beliefs. Despite the driving snow and frigid temperatures, tens of thousands of protesters took to the street, claiming that Scott Walker’s attempt to curb union powers was circumventing the democratic process. They further claimed that the protest I was observing, “is what democracy looks like.” Representatives of the Wisconsin Teacher’s Union even attempted to persuade me that Walker was illegitimate as he was governing without having received a majority of the vote. I quickly discovered they were using liberal math by dividing Walker votes by the number of people in Wisconsin, rather than the number of voters who cast votes. I fully understood the meaning of Collective Bargaining that day because I was unable to find anyone in a crowd of almost 100,000 capable of expressing an independent thought. I talked with at least 100 protesters that day and took dozens of fantastic photos and, as the day wound down, I was thankful to return to Texas.
Republican legislators pressed on with Walker’s proposed legislation, but could not pass a bill because they did not have a quorum in the Senate required by Wisconsin law to pass legislation containing budgetary matters. Then on February 20, fourteen Democratic State Senators abandoned their posts and left the state, denying the Republicans a quorum in the Senate preventing passage of the bill. The group of 14 Democratic State Senators who fled the state remained out of reach in Illinois for three weeks, continuing to block passage of the bill, would eventually become known as Fleabaggers.
Walker and Republican lawmakers navigated around the obstacle, stripping the bill of budgetary measures enabling its passage without a quorum. The modified legislation, which contained no budgetary provisions, passed the State Senate on March 9, followed almost immediately by passage in the State Assembly on March 10. Governor Walker signed the bill which would effectively end collective bargaining for unionized public employees into law on March 11. But passing the bill did not end the fight.
The Democratic Party fought back, accusing Republicans of violating the state’s open meetings law and, marching in lockstep with unions, went to court seeking a restraining order to prevent the bill from becoming law. Finding a sympathetic Democratic judge, on March 18 Democrats and unions scored a victory when Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, a Democrat, ruled against Walker and temporarily restrained publication of the bill which is required in Wisconsin for a bill to become law.
Sumi extended her restraining order on March 28. Both sides in the battle, along with the rest of the country, have waited ever since, expecting the Wisconsin Supreme Court to be the ultimate arbiters in the fight.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court did take up the matter, hearing oral arguments on June 6. Working with uncharacteristic speed, Tuesday the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 68 page ruling which gives Governor Walker a huge victory and labor unions a resounding defeat.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again,” Governor Walker said in a prepared statement which came shortly after the ruling was handed down.
This fight isn’t over, but at least the forces of sanity won victory on Tuesday. Reading the Supreme Court’s decision, I also noticed and was encouraged by language admonishing the lower court judge (Sumi) for interfering in the legislative process. The ruling quotes the State Constitution stating that “legislative power shall be vested in a senate and assembly.” How refreshing for judges to remember the constitution.
In a perfect world, this ruling would curb the propensity of liberal judges to legislate from the bench, but I doubt it.
Article first published as Justice Done In Wisconsin As Supreme Court Delivers Victory To Governor Walker on Technorati.