MADISON — State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he will ask that enforcement be delayed of a court ruling blocking significant portions of the state’s collective bargaining law for public workers while the issue is under appeal.
On Friday, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas blocked most of the law as applied to municipal and school district workers, including thousands of teachers, finding it to be an unconstitutional infringement on their rights of free speech, freedom of association and equal protection.
Attorneys for Madison Teachers Inc. and a Milwaukee sanitation workers’ union said state employee unions also might attempt to be covered by the ruling.
Said Van Hollen in a statement, “We believe that Act 10 is constitutional in all respects and will be appealing this decision. We also will be seeking a stay of Friday’s decision pending appeal in order to allow the law to continue in effect as it has for more than a year while the appellate courts address the legal issues.“
The move does not come as a surprise to lawyers who sued the state in order to block the law that took effect last year.
At a news conference Saturday, MTI lawyer Lester Pines said he expected the state to file motions to stay Colas’ ruling. He said the state Supreme Court could ultimately be asked to rule on a stay.
An appeal of the case itself could take as long as six months to reach the Supreme Court after it is considered by the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals.
“I can’t predict what any court is going to do with any of the things that may theoretically be done by the state,” Pines said. “All I can predict is that anytime Governor Walker gets a negative ruling from any of the courts he’s going to cry like a baby and whine and say they’re politically biased.“
Pines was referring to Walker’s statement on Friday calling Colas a “liberal activist judge” who wants to take the state backwards.
On Saturday, Pines said Walker “seems to have forgotten that there really are three branches of government” and challenged him to stop attacking the judiciary when he gets a decision he doesn’t like.
A complex decision like the one Colas issued Friday, Pines said, requires parties in the case, especially Walker, “to take time to read and reflect on and not to automatically attack the judge for being politically motivated and biased.“
He also said it’s poor manners and strategy for Walker to insult a judge who still will decide issues in the case.
Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
One area where unions did not prevail, Pines said, was an attempt to overturn a prohibition on unionization of UW employees and UW Hospitals and Clinics employees. He said it appears Walker didn’t consider that before claiming Colas is biased.
As written, Colas’ decision applies only to municipal workers and school district employees in Wisconsin, Pines said.
But he said the rationale behind the decision would also apply to parallel laws that govern state workers. He said state workers’ unions can intervene in the case during an appeal. Lawyers representing state employee unions could not be reached for comment Saturday.
“It really could be an apples-to-apples comparison,” said MTI co-counsel Tamara Packard.
She said state worker unions could file a parallel lawsuit and hope for the same result, or “everyone could simply realize that the parallel provisions, if they’re unconstitutional in the municipal law, they’re unconstitutional in the state (employment) law.“
State worker unions sued over the collective bargaining law in federal court. A ruling in April by U.S. District Judge William Conley was not as wide-ranging as Colas’ but struck down key parts of the law, saying the state can’t prevent public employee unions from collecting voluntary dues through payroll deductions and can’t require that they recertify annually.
Colas also said the Legislature violated Milwaukee home rule by prohibiting the city from paying the employee share of contributions to the city Employee Retirement System.
Until another court ruling, municipalities and school districts can immediately start bargaining with certified unions on wages, hours and working conditions, Pines said.
MTI executive director John Matthews said Madison might have to reverse policy changes it made as part of the 2011-13 contract it negotiated shortly before Act 10 took effect.
He cited rollbacks on elementary teacher planning time and the removal of WPS as a health insurance option as examples.
Matthews argued the contract was negotiated in the shadow of Act 10, so provisions of the contract that were agreed upon were adopted under questionable circumstances. An arbitrator might be needed to sort out the issue, he said.