A state appeals court has reversed a Dane County judge’s ruling that Wisconsin’s right-to-work law was unconstitutional, potentially bringing to close a series of legal challenges to the law passed by Republicans in 2015.
The International Association of Machinists District 10 and Local Lodge 1061, United Steelworkers District 2 and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO argued the law required them to represent non-member employees in collective bargaining while taking away the ability to require those employees to pay for the cost of that representation.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust agreed with the unions, ruling in April 2016 the right-to-work law amounted to an unconstitutional taking of union property.
But a three judge panel in the District III Court of Appeals disagreed, with Judge Mark Seidl writing that when unions have the benefit of exclusive representation it comes with a duty to represent all employees fairly.
“The unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-member employees,” Seidl said. “The unions may be required to expend resources to represent employees in a bargaining unit who do not pay fees or dues to the unions, but this result does not constitute a taking.”
Seidl wrote that unions would now have to consider the costs and benefits in light of the new law “and then determine how best to lawfully acquire the funds they believe they need to perform their duties as an exclusive bargaining representative.”
Foust had declined to stay his ruling in 2016, but the appeals court eventually put it on hold while the case was decided. The delay in the stay caused some short-term uncertainty, but supporters of the law argued it would ultimately be upheld if not by the appeals court then at the state Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-2 majority.
The unions could still appeal to the state’s high court. Attorneys for the labor groups were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.
“The state has long argued right-to-work’s constitutionality and today, we were vindicated,” said Johnny Koremenos, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice.
The ruling is the second victory in recent months for supporters of the right-to-work law. In July the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a challenge brought by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 and Local 420.