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Unions give their thoughts on Wis. debate

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 25, 2011

Van Hollen

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Wisconsin labor unions, targeted by Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill, say a decision whether to keep in place a temporary restraining order put on the bill last week will have a "profound" impact on their members.

The labor unions submitted a motion to file an amicus brief and their proposed brief on Wednesday.

The seven unions included in the amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief are: the Wisconsin Education Association Council; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, District 24; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, District 40; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, District 48; the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin; SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin; and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

"The appeal in this matter presents a great interest to the public employees represented by the Unions because the Act dramatically impacts their rights to collectively bargain their wages, hours and working conditions," the unions wrote.

On Monday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed the temporary restraining order issued by Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi. Sumi made her ruling March 18. In it, she said a legislative committee violated the state's Open Meetings Law when it approved a new version of the governor's budget bill on March 9.

The Budget Repair Bill has been a source of controversy for weeks, eliminating nearly all collective bargaining rights for those public employee union members. Walker, a Republican, had proposed the bill in response to state budget deficits.

Now, because of Sumi's order, the law can't take effect.

"Given the impact of the Act on their collective bargaining rights, thousands of the Unions' members sought to participate in the legislative process regarding the passage of the Act, but were denied the right to do so by the alleged constitutional and Open Meetings Law violations," the unions wrote.

"The resolution of this case will have a profound and substantial impact on the Unions' members and public employees statewide."

The unions, in filing an amicus brief, say they hope to "represent their members' interest" and "provide insight" regarding the impact of the case on their members.

On Thursday, a state appeals court called on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide whether the temporary restraining order should be kept in place.

The state's 4th District Court of Appeals certified a petition for leave to appeal and accompanying motion for temporary relief to the state Supreme Court, and certified two questions:

- Whether striking down a legislative act -- also known as voiding -- is an available remedy for a violation of the Open Meetings Law by the Legislature or a subunit thereof; and if so

- Whether a court has the authority to enjoin the Secretary of State's publication of an act before it becomes law.

The appeals court said in its eight-page filing that the case has "broad statewide implications" for the general public and those affected directly by the bill.

Van Hollen maintains that the Legislature and the governor, "not a single Dane County Circuit Court judge," are responsible for the enactment of law.

"Decisions of the Supreme Court have made it clear that judges may not enjoin the Secretary of State from publishing an act," he said in a statement last week.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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