Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Collective bargaining for some public employees lives again in Wisconsin thanks to a Monday ruling by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas.
Judge Colas, who struck down portions of Act 10 last year, ruled that Walker and his appointees on the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) are in contempt of court for continuing to enforce Act 10 against municipal and school district unions across the state.
"We were pleased to see that the commissioners were finally taken to task for enforcing an unconstitutional law," Christina Brey, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, told The Progressive. "All along they've been thumbing their nose at the court's ruling and today's ruling that they were in contempt of court was a wake-up call for the commission, that they are not above the law."
"We're telling our members to continue watching it and go ahead as they have been, just to be sure they continue to organize in their local schools," she added. "This is what we teach our students every day. There is a system of checks and balances. This is basic civics and it cannot be ignored."
The WERC argued that Colas' ruling in 2012 only applied to the two unions that brought the original complaint, instead of all the public employee unions statewide. Colas disagreed on Monday and issued an injunction barring the WERC from holding union re-certification elections, which it planned to carry out on November 1.
"I think the contempt is nothing more than an attempt to elude the application of a judgment of the court that the commission knew full well applied," Colas told The Wisconsin State Journal. In his ruling, Judge Colas left no wiggle room for the state, insisting that Act 10 may not be enforced "against anyone," according to The Journal Sentinel.
"The commission is going to comply with the judge's ruling, but we'll be seeking review of that ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court," WERC's chief legal counsel Peter G. Davis told The Progressive. As for the ruling of contempt, Davis said simply: "That's a judgement that the state supreme court is going to have to make."
The ruling spares over 400 Wisconsin school district and municipal worker unions from re-certification elections and restores their power to bargain on behalf of members. State workers remain unaffected, and the next stop for the case is the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is expected to take up oral arguments on Act 10 starting November 11.
Photo: Flickr user Richard Hurd, creative commons licensed.
Updated with additional context.