On Friday, March 30, 2012, the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck down two key provisions of Wisconsin’s new public sector collective bargaining law. Importantly, however, the Court left in place all of the bargaining restrictions, thus severely limiting what a Union can ask to bargain over. [FN1]

First, the Court struck down the section that required annual re-certification elections. The new law required annual representation elections for many municipal labor unions. For local governments with collective bargaining agreements that expired at the end of 2011, those elections took place this spring. Most smaller units chose not to even seek re-certification and, as a result, the Union was disbanded.

The Court’s decision would appear to undo the re-certification system entirely. As a result, any Unions that were disbanded this spring as a result of their choosing to not seek re-certification, are now reinstated. Further, if you thought you were going to have a re-certification election after your current contract expires, that is no longer the case.

As mentioned above, however, the court did not throw out the limitations on what can and can’t be bargained over. The law states that general municipal employees can bargain over only the “base wage rate” and nothing else. The annual maximum increase in the base wage rate is also capped by law. Those provisions remain in effect.

As a result, the impact of the Court’s decision is somewhat limited. Employees are now Union members again and don’t have to face annual re-certification elections. But, they can only bargain over the base wage rate, any increase of which is capped by law.

Second, the court threw out the provision that prohibited municipalities from deducting union dues from an employee’s paycheck. Municipalities will now have to choose, if asked, whether or not they want to voluntarily collect the dues on the Union’s behalf.

We assume this decision will be appealed, and we’ll keep you up to date on any new developments. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please contact Drew Cochrane at 608.259.2627 or dcochrane@staffordlaw.com.

FN1 – Most of the issues discussed in this Short Report apply to general municipal employees, and not Public Safety employees.

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