Judge issues restraining order against Wisconsin anti-union law

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A Dane County judge at 10:30 this morning issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill that would destroy collective bargaining rights for public workers.

In her ruling, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi wrote she was issuing her order because a legislative committee likely violated the state's open meetings law when it rammed through the bill suddenly on March 9.

The restraining order was in response to a lawsuit brought by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne.

For bills passed by both houses of the Wisconsin legislature and then signed by the governor to become law, they must be published by the Secretary of State.

"Judge Simi confirmed today what we have said all along which is that the bill stripping hundreds of thousands of hard working Wisconsinites of their voice on the job was rammed through illegally in the dark of night," said Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

"Today justice prevailed," said Stephanie Bloomingfale, the state federation's secretary-treasurer. "In Wisconsin and America we have a democratic process for passing legislation."

The judge noted that Conference Committee meetings to move forward legislation can be called only after 24 hours of notice unless there is an emergency. Wisconsin Republicans gave only two hours notice and no emergency could be proven, the judge said.

Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, said Wisconsin's "so-called leaders may think they can get away with ignoring the people by attacking workers' rights, but they simply cannot continue ignoring the law if they want to call this state a democracy."

The restraining order prevents Secretary of State Doug LaFollette from publishing the law, as he had planned, on March 25 and from the law then taking effect a day later on March 26. The judge's order makes it impossible for LaFollette to publish the law and also makes it impossible for the law to take effect, for now.

LaFollette, a Democrat, was in no hurry to publish the law anyway, having already rebuffed pressure from the governor who wanted it published sooner.

LaFollette had said publicly that he saw no urgency to rush ahead with the law and that he wanted to ensure that legal challenges to it would have time to run their course.

The ruling by Judge Sumi is seen as a major setback for Walker and places the entire future of the law into question.

The court victory for the labor movement and its allies comes on the heels of protests that drew hundreds of thousands to the state Capitol here and saw 14 Democratic state senators flee to Illinois to block a vote on the measure.

Walker claimed the law was needed to close a $137 million state budget gap but the bill that was rammed through on March 9 was stripped of any budget cutting measures. The only part left was the section that killed collective bargaining rights for workers.

Wisconsin state senators and state representatives are not scheduled to meet again until April 5.

Image: Private workers and other supporters of public-sector unions rally in Madison. Teresa Albano/PW

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