WI Public Employee Unions’ Complaint

Here is the complaint filed in federal court by several Wisconsin unions seeking to overturn newly adopted restrictions on collective bargaining by public employees. Here is the nature of the action as described in the opening portions of the complaint.

At the request of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Defendant in this action, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted legislation commonly known as the “Budget Repair Bill” and officially titled “2011 Wisconsin Act 10” (the “Act”). Although the stated purpose of the Act is to address the state’s projected budget deficit during a temporary economic downturn, the vast majority of the Act’s provisions operate to achieve three permanent and fundamental changes to Wisconsin’s decades-old system of labor relations in the public sector. The first is to eliminate or reduce to a shell the existing collective bargaining rights of a disfavored class of state and municipal workers, while maintaining the robust bargaining rights of a favored class consisting of those employees falling within a newly-created category deemed “public safety” employees. The favored class consists of certain fire fighters and certain law enforcement officers, whereas the disfavored class consists of all other public workers who had been covered by Wisconsin’s collective bargaining laws. The second permanent and fundamental change is to make it prohibitively difficult for the disfavored class of employees, and only the disfavored class, to retain a union as their bargaining representative. The third change is to weaken the ability of employees in the disfavored class, and only the disfavored class, to support financially their unions’ activities, including, importantly, their First Amendment-protected political speech activities.

2. The distinctions between the two classes of employees bear no rational relationship to the stated budgetary objectives of the Act or to any other legitimate State purpose, and the Act’s labor relations provisions therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and must be enjoined and declared invalid.

3. The provision of the Act that denies the disfavored class of employees, and only that class, the ability to finance their unions’ free speech and associational activities through the mechanism of dues deduction is unconstitutional for the additional reason that it makes an impermissible speaker-based and viewpoint-based distinction between similarly-situated employees and employee organizations and therefore violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

4. Confirming the invalidity of the distinctions the Act makes between “public safety” and other employees is that those distinctions, while lacking a discernable connection to any legitimate governmental objective, bear a remarkably close connection to the illegitimate objective of punishing the political opponents and rewarding the political supporters of the Governor. That is because all of the unions and employee associations that supported the election of the Governor are classified by the Act as favored “public safety” employees—a classification created for the first time in the Act and corresponding to no prior demarcation of different classes of public employees—and none of those unions or associations are in the disfavored class.