The Wisconsin Supreme Court [ht: sm] upheld Gov. Scott Walker’s signature labor legislation, the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 (also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill), today.
The decision was 5-2, with Justice Michael Gableman writing the lead opinion, which found that collective bargaining over a contract with an employer is not a fundamental right for public employees under the constitution. Instead, it’s a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit.
“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect,” Gableman wrote.
Gableman said that public employees still had the right to form unions to influence their employers, but government officials aren’t obligated to listen to them.
“The plaintiffs remain free to advance any position, on any topic, either individually or in concert, through any channels that are open to the public,” Gableman wrote.
Here is a link [pdf] to the decision, including the majority opinion, a concurring opinion, and the dissenting opinion. According to dissenting judges Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley S. Abrahamson,
In sum, the majority’s failure to address the actual issues presented in this case allows it to reach results that countenance the needless diminution of multiple constitutional rights. The right to freedom of association is diluted as the majority has opened the door for the State to withhold benefits and punish individuals based on their membership in disfavored groups. Municipalities’ right to self-govern as granted by the Home Rule Amendment now rings hollow as the majority determines that when the State has budgetary concerns, anything dealing with local finances is a statewide matter. And the right to contract is undermined as the majority demonstrates its willingness to creatively interpret a contract in a manner permitting the State to disregard it.