Wisconsin Fight Moves to Recalls

June 16, 2011

By AMY MERRICK, The Wall Street Journal

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision allowing a contentious collective-bargaining law to take effect ended one drama—and collided with another.

For months, state Democrats opposed to the law have been organizing a campaign to remove six Republican state senators from office through recall elections in July.

The court decision “has fired people up,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. He said the party’s state office was getting more calls Wednesday than before the ruling, many from people volunteering to canvass voters.

In Wisconsin, if voters successfully petition to recall their lawmakers, those officials must run in special elections to attempt to keep their seats. Primary elections for the Republican senators will be held July 12.

Three Democratic senators also are up for recall. Republicans are urging that the Democrats be removed from office for fleeing to Illinois this spring to block a vote on the collective-bargaining law, which ultimately passed and was signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

While the high court has for now settled the status of the new law—pending a fresh lawsuit filed by labor unions on Wednesday—the ruling has done nothing to quiet the political debate across Wisconsin.

The new law limits the state’s public employees to bargaining over their wages from more expansive bargaining rights that included all aspects of their contracts.

It also requires them, for the first time, to contribute 5.8% of their salaries to their pensions and pay at least 12.6% of their health-care premiums.

Mr. Walker said the measure was needed to help tackle the state’s budget deficit and give local governments flexibility. Democrats called it an attack on unions.

On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a lower-court judge who put the measure on hold improperly interfered with the legislature.

The ruling affirmed the GOP’s position and eliminated uncertainty about the law’s implementation, said Republican Senate candidate David VanderLeest, who is challenging Democrat Dave Hansen of Green Bay in the July recall election.

“It shows that we played by the rules in this very controversial and polarizing process,” Mr. VanderLeest said.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council and other state unions filed a lawsuit challenging parts of the law Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Madison.

The unions say the law violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against certain classes of public employees. Most police officers and firefighters are exempt from the law.

The unions filing the suit said they seek to have their bargaining rights restored but aren’t challenging the increased contributions for pensions and health care.

Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette said Wednesday that the law will be published June 28 and take effect the next day. The Wisconsin Department of Administration said state workers will begin to see the higher contributions deducted from their paychecks as early as late August. The timing for local-government workers will depend on their contracts with municipalities and school districts.

To read more, visit: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303499204576388023100282878.html



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