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7th Circuit Panel Overturns District Judge, Upholds WI Collective Bargaining Law

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by Publius
Posted January 22, 2013, 11:20 AM

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

A federal appeals court on Friday reversed a decision by a local federal judge and upheld a state law that sharply curtails the collective bargaining rights of public workers in Wisconsin.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed a ruling issued in March by U.S. District Judge William Conley that struck down key parts of the collective bargaining law. Conley had ruled that the state can't prevent public employee unions from collecting voluntary dues through payroll deductions and can't require annual recertification of unions.

But writing for a 2-1 majority, Judge Joel Flaum wrote that the law's payroll deduction prohibitions do not violate First Amendment free speech rights because "use of the state's payroll systems to collect union dues is a state subsidy of speech that requires only viewpoint neutrality."

Flaum also wrote that unions' arguments against the creation of different collective bargaining rules for two sets of public workers — public safety employees and general employees — were appealing but aren't supported by established law.

"All that matters is whether the statute, as written, furthers a legitimate government objective," Flaum wrote. Once a rational relationship is found "between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose," the law passes constitutional scrutiny, he wrote.

The state, Flaum wrote, reasonably concluded that public safety workers "filled too critical a role" to risk work stoppages caused by labor unrest.

In a partial dissent, Judge David Hamilton agreed with Conley that the state's selective prohibition on payroll deductions for union dues violates the First Amendment. Hamilton otherwise agreed with the majority decision, though he admitted that the state's reasoning for its different treatment of public safety and general employees in collective bargaining seemed "flimsy."

The ruling is not the final word on the fate of the controversial measure. In September Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas blocked significant portions of the law as applied to municipal and school district workers, finding it to be an unconstitutional infringement on their rights of free speech, freedom of association and equal protection. His decision, which differs from Conley's in that it is based on state law, is before a state appeals court.

Two other lawsuits are still pending. . . .

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