Wisconsin Judge Agrees with IAM, Rules Against ‘Right-to-Work’ Law

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IAM members in Wisconsin joined thousands of others at rallies protesting the state’s proposed “right-to-work” law in 2015. The bill was signed into law by anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker, but a circuit judge recently ruled the law to be against the state’s constitution.

A Wisconsin judge has sided with the Machinists Union in a case challenging the state’s private sector “right-to-work” law. IAM District 10 in Milwaukee, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers District 2 in Menasha, WI argued the law was an unlawful seizure of property because it required private-sector unions to extend benefits to workers who don’t pay dues.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s GOP legislature pushed the law through in February 2015 amidst massive protests. Workers in right-to-work states have significantly lower wages and fewer benefits.

“Judge Faust’s ruling is a victory for Machinist Union members and all of Wisconsin’s working families,” said IAM District 10 Directing Business Representative Alex Hoekstra. “Walker and his cronies have continued to push a policy of state economic growth through the elimination of workers’ rights. We always knew this policy was foolish and destined to fail, now we know it was illegal.”

Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust cited the state constitution’s provision that “the property of no person shall be taken for public use without just compensation.” The impact of the law “over time is threatening to the unions’ very economic viability,” wrote Foust.

Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General promised to appeal the decision to the state’s conservative majority Supreme Court, but some labor lawyers say the case could be a crack in right-to-work’s armor.

“For unions, the silver lining is that the ‘takings’ argument may acquire traction in other states or in federal court,” writes Brian Mahoney for Politico. “The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has a ‘takings’ clause, and so do some other state constitutions.”

Paul Secunda, a Marquette University labor lawyer, told the American Prospect that unions may have success using the ‘takings’ argument to challenge West Virginia’s new right-to-work law, which would ultimately be brought before a more liberal federal circuit court. The case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, where a potential future liberal majority could overturn all states’ right-to-work laws.

“The courts put a needed check on Scott Walker’s attacks on working families by ruling that Wisconsin’s ‘right-to-work’ law is in violation of our state constitution,” said Phil Neuenfeldt, an IAM member and president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO. “‘Right-to-work’ goes against the Wisconsin principles of fairness and democracy and hurts all of Wisconsin by eroding the strength of our middle class. ‘Right-to-work’ has always been unjust, now it’s proven unconstitutional.”

“Congratulations to IAM District 10, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers District 2 and working families throughout the state of Wisconsin,” said IAM Midwest Territory General Vice President Philip J. Gruber. “Over the last three to four years, Wisconsin has seen the largest decline in middle-class households than any other state. It’s anti-union policies like these that are to blame. I applaud the courts for helping turn the state in the right direction.”