Normally I'm optomistic so I'm sorry to be a wet blanket or a rain cloud on the celebration parade, but this isn't a complete victory and we should realize that. This glass is only half full.
While Judge Juan Colas, in striking down much of Act 10, a rammed through law virtually eliminating collective bargaining for public employees, is good news, there's also more to the story.
While local and municipal employees, as well as employees of school districts will have most of their union rights restored, Act 10 remains in affect for all state employees.
The law remains largely in force for state workers, though a federal judge struck down part of that section of the law as well earlier this year. But for city, county, and school workers the decision by Dane County Judge Juan Colas returns the law to its status before Walker signed his law in March 2011.It was largely the state workers who began the Capitol protests starting the Saturday after information on Act 10 came out late on a Friday until busses could be arranged to get massive numbers of people to Madison starting Tuesday. While those outside of Madison carpooled or drove to join the protests, the massive initial crowd of 35,000 didn't happen right away. It was state union members who handled the coordinations of the sleep ins, distribution of donated food, and distribution of information.
Colas ruled that the law violated workers' constitutional rights by denying to union workers certain powers available to their nonunion counterparts. The decision could still be overturned on appeal - the Supreme Court has already restored the law once in June 2011 after it was blocked by a different Dane County judge earlier that year.
"The decision essentially creates the (2011) status quo for municipal employees and school district employees because it declared that the essential provisions of Act 10 to be unconstitutional," said Lester Pines, an attorney for the Madison teachers and city of Milwaukee employees who are plaintiffs.
The other bad news is that JD Van Hollen, our Republican Attorney General, will once again issue an appeal to our 4:3 RW majority State Supreme Court as he has with other laws rammed through and quickly signed by Scott Walker.
In fact Walker derided Colas as a "liberal activist judge" has already committed to the appeal and said he was confident that the State Supreme Court would overturn the ruling.
But, yes, let's celebrate what the ruling does:
Under Walker's law, both the state and local governments were prohibited from bargaining over anything besides a cost of living salary adjustment. Other issues such as health benefits, pensions, workplace safety and other work rules were strictly off limits.
Those can all now be bargained.
Good news for public workers who have seen their previous contract provisions for workplace safety and health get flushed down the toilet.
Before I retired I was a public employee, a Registered Nurse working under a union contract. My contract was lengthy. About 2 pages were devoted to wages and benefits. The dozens of other pages had to do with important matters like ensuring that there would be adequate staffing, enough ancillary personell so nurses could spend time with their patients rather than cleaning units and emptying trash cans, fairness in vacation selection and disciplinary hearings, maintainence of equipment, a committee with management and employees to discuss workplace issues, and I could go on and on.
Union contracts aren't about wages and benefits alone. Most of the contracts are about our working conditions which are the same as the conditions of our patients, students, or the public and having what we need to do our jobs.
So, yes, let's celebrate victory, but remember that the rights of our state workers have not been restored. And remember that elections matter.
Update: Decent article here from the Wisconsin State Journal which highlighted what Act 10 has done in a little more than a year:
Not only did Act 10 bar automatic dues deductions and impose strict new rules to gain recognition from local governments, but the law so severely weakened collective bargaining power that many workers likely felt they had little incentive to remain in their unions.and adds:
A phone call I made recently to AFSCME Local 2412, which represents administrative employees at UW-Madison and UW-Baraboo, poignantly demonstrated the crisis.
“We no longer have office staff to answer your calls, but we do want to receive your message and one of the officers will return your call as soon as possible,” says the voice on the answering machine.
Another AFSCME local in New Berlin, which represented school custodians, recently contributed the remaining $10,000 in its coffers to a local food pantry after all of its members were laid off.
“We’re really big into training our members on how to survive this new environment,” he says. Part of that is communicating with members and urging them to contribute voluntary dues..
It could be that the tough times will continue, as Walker said shortly after the ruling that he will appeal and that he’s confident of winning. It’s also important to note that Friday’s decision only pertains to county, city and school unions, not those for state workers.