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3 lawsuits pending in Wisconsin union fight

Associated Press Published: September 17, 2012
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state court ruling that threw out major parts of the new Wisconsin law restricting collective bargaining came in one of three lawsuits challenging the 2011 law.

Here is a summary of each:

Madison Teachers Inc. and Public Employees Local 61 vs. Walker: This case, filed in Dane County Circuit Court in August 2011, argued in part that the law was unconstitutional because it capped union workers' raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts.

Judge Juan Colas agreed on Friday, saying that was a violation of the constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation.

The judge also ruled that the law violated the "home rule" clause of the state constitution by setting the contribution for Milwaukee city employees to the city pension system rather than leaving it to the city and workers.

The ruling means the law is not in effect for school and local government workers, while it remains in effect for state workers and employees of the University of Wisconsin System.

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AFL-CIO and AFSCME vs. Walker: An AFL-CIO chapter representing about 240 Madison city workers and an AFSCME chapter representing about 2,440 Dane County workers filed a federal lawsuit in July 2011 alleging that the law violated their constitutional rights to freely assemble, free speech and equal protection.

They argued that the restrictions hurt public sector unions' ability to express their collective viewpoints. They said the law also makes it difficult for people to associate with public unions and express mutual concerns.

The chapters also note that the restrictions don't apply to public safety workers' unions, allowing different treatment under the law and "creating unnecessary conflict among the employees and divisions within and among public sector labor organizations."

Attorneys representing Gov. Scott Walker and the commission members have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. They argue collective bargaining is a state-granted privilege, not a constitutional right, and the unions failed to present any evidence that they can no longer assemble or petition the government as one.

The unions' equal protection claims also fail, they argued, because Wisconsin's history is full of examples of the state treating unions differently. The state exempted public safety workers from the changes in order to avoid work stoppages that might endanger citizens, they added.

Both sides are waiting for a ruling on the dismissal motion.

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Seven public unions, including the teachers' union and the largest statewide public sector union, vs. Walker: A coalition of seven large unions filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in June 2011 challenging the constitutionality of the law.

U.S. District Judge William Conley in March overturned a part of the law requiring that unions hold elections each year for members to retain their official status. The judge also said the law illegally halted the automatic withdrawal of union dues.

The crux of the lawsuit's arguments — that the law violated the constitution's equal protection clause by exempting firefighters and police officers, was rejected by the judge who said Walker had a legitimate concern when making that distinction.

The majority of the law remained untouched.

Arguments before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals are scheduled for Sept. 24.

Organizations that filed the lawsuit include councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and the Service Employees International Union-Health Care Wisconsin.