MADISON, Wis. – Has Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas become a mere political tool for organized labor?
Last year Colas made national headlines by ruling that certain provisions of Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping collective bargaining reform law, are unconstitutional. Among those provisions was one that required all public sector unions to have annual recertification elections, to determine if employees want to maintain union representation.
But there was ongoing disagreement about whether his decision applied statewide, or only to the two teachers unions that filed the lawsuit challenging Act 10.
Earlier this year the plaintiff unions (from Milwaukee and Madison) asked Colas for clarification of his ruling, and requested that he force the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission to stop scheduling recertification elections for public sector unions around the state.
Colas ruled that his decision regarding Act 10 applied to the entire state, but declined to force WERC to stop scheduling the union recertification votes, writing at the time that “Neither (plaintiff) union had been irreparably harmed by the state’s decision to implement the law with other unions.”
That clearly said the state could still schedule recertification votes for the other local unions – right?
On Monday Colas reversed himself, ruling that WERC commissioners were in contempt of court for scheduling recertification elections and enforcing other provisions of Act 10.
According to the Journal Sentinel, his latest ruling basically sets Act 10 aside and “will give teachers and local government workers the ability to immediately enter into labor negotiations” with their employers over a full array of issues. Act 10 limited collective bargaining to wages, and capped raises at the rate of inflation.
Now everything under the sun can apparently be negotiated again, including benefits and work rules. Schools that have been functioning well under Act 10 may suddenly have to once again deal with the chaos and expense of full-contact collective bargaining.
State officials indicated they would honor the ruling but also said they may appeal, according to the news report. In the meantime the Wisconsin Supreme Court has already agreed to take up the Act 10 case, and a final ruling is expected to come next summer.
Many observers expect the conservative-leaning court to reinstate the law in full. But until then nobody knows for sure how aggressive the unions will be in trying to re-implement full collective bargaining.
If Colas has any concern for the students of Wisconsin, he will react positively to any request for a temporary stay on his ruling until the Supreme Court decides the issue, once and for all.
Schools across Wisconsin have been able to function effectively with current levels of revenue under Act 10. School boards have been able to cut labor and benefit costs and balance their budgets without union consent. They have finally been able to act in the best interests of students rather than their unionized employees.
Any return to full collective bargaining could throw many districts into a financial tailspin, requiring painful budget cuts that would have adverse effects on students.
But last year Colas rejected a request from the state attorney general for a stay on his initial ruling. And his latest decision to hold the WERC commissioners in contempt – which contradicted his more reasonable decision from several weeks ago – shows that he may be more concerned with pleasing the unions than he is with helping the state’s schools continue to meet their responsibilities to students.
We suppose that’s not surprising, considering the he’s an elected judge from Madison, where voters couldn’t possibly be more radically pro-union.
At this point all Act 10 supporters can do is hold their breaths and hope there isn’t too much damage done before the Supreme Court rules – presumably in favor of students and taxpayers and against the public sector unions.
By Steve Gunn at EAGnews.org