On Friday, a state court judge in Wisconsin struck down virtually all of Scott Walker's collective bargaining reform as a violation of both the US and Wisconsin constitutions.
The decision is a thinly veiled piece of judicial activism by Judge Juan Colas, who was appointed by the former Democratic Governor, Jim Doyle. How exactly does Governor Walker's reform infringe the "associational and speech rights" of municipal union members? Well, it prohibits municipal unions from collectively bargaining on non-wage benefits (they can still bargain on wages); it prohibits unions from forcing non-union members to pay part of the union's expenses (for the privilege of being represented by a union they want no part of), and it prohibits unions from automatically deducting union dues from payrolls. Got that? It's a violation of free speech to make the union ask its members for their dues.
I confess, I had to read Judge Colas' opinion several times to discover his rationale. The heart of the decision appears to be this single sentence on page 15: "Although the statutes do not prohibit speech or associational activities, the statutes do impose burdens on employees' exercise of those rights when they do so for the purpose of recognition of their association as an exclusive bargaining agent."
What a gloriously convoluted sentence! The reality is: the law dethrones municipal unions in Wisconsin from their former status as all-powerful closed shops, and finally gives employees the freedom to join, or not, municipal unions. Judge Colas casts this not as a burden on the unions, but on employees' right to associate for the purpose of forming an "exclusive bargaining agent." By this logic, every "right to work" law in the country violates the First Amendment. Judge Colas also held that the reform law violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but that holding was predicated on the asserted First Amendment violation.
This decision (and another recent one by an Obama-appointed federal court overturning parts of the Wisconsin law) are desperate rearguard actions by Democratic partisans. Under Walker's reforms, more than half of the Wisconsin members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union have dropped out. So have a third of the American Federation of Teachers members in the state. This is terrible news for the Democratic Party. According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, compulsory unionism allows unions to collect $4.5 billion annually in dues "and funnel much of it into unreported campaign operations." And now, those employees who have been forced to subsidize Democratic campaigns are heading for the exits.
The idea that Walker has violated workers' rights by giving them a real choice as to whether to join a union is preposterous. The Wisconsin Attorney General has vowed to appeal this decision -- let's hope reason prevails in the higher courts.
The case is Madison Teachers, Inc. v. Scott Walker: http://www.scribd.com/doc/105950737/Wisconsin-Collective-Bargaining-Ruling