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Wis. unions file contempt motion over restrictions

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • September 24, 2013 - 5:10 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A group of unions asked a judge Tuesday to hold Wisconsin labor relations officials in contempt for continuing to enforce parts of Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining restrictions despite a ruling the provisions are unconstitutional.

Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas decided last year the restrictions were unconstitutional as applied to two unions, one representing Madison teachers and the other Milwaukee city workers. It's unclear whether the ruling applies to all municipal workers in the state, though.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to take the case, but it could be months before it rules. Meanwhile the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission has continued to prepare for certification elections for more than 400 teacher and school district employee unions in November, as per the restrictions.

Six public employee unions, including the state's largest teachers union, asked Colas in April to block WERC's election preparations. Colas issued a ruling last week saying WERC can't enforce the restrictions against anyone but stopped short of issuing a formal injunction, creating more confusion.

The unions warned WERC to stop the election preparations by Monday or they would seek to have the commission held in contempt of court. WERC refused, saying the 400-plus unions have asked for the elections.

The six unions countered the restrictions don't give the unions any choice. They must go through the elections or they'll be automatically decertified. They filed a motion with Colas on Tuesday demanding the judge find WERC in contempt, arguing the commission is trying to enforce restrictions Colas deemed unlawful.

"Their contemptuous behavior is unprecedented," the motion said. "It displays an utter disrespect and contempt for the judiciary, in general, and the Court ... in particular."

The unions asked Colas to order WERC to cease and desist its election preparations, refund all fees any unions have paid to fund the elections and order the two commissioners, James Scott and Rodney Pasch, to personally pay $2,000 each day they fail to comply with a contempt order.

Colas gave WERC until Oct. 4 to file a response and set a hearing for Oct. 18.

Lester Pines, an attorney who represents the Kenosha Education Association, one of the six unions that filed the contempt motion, as well as the Madison teachers, branded Scott and Pasch "renegades" and Walker "puppets" during a news conference Tuesday. Walker wants to decertify as many unions as he can and the commissioners are helping him in defiance of the court order, Pines said.

"They blew Judge Colas off. They thumbed their noses at him," Pines said.

Peter Davis, WERC's chief counsel, said he hadn't seen the motion yet but the commission will file any responses in court.

"We won't be trying our case in the press, as they've apparently decided to do," he said shortly before the news conference began.

Davis didn't immediately respond to a follow-up message seeking comment on Pines' remarks.

The Republican-controlled Legislature adopted a Walker bill in 2011 that stripped almost all public workers on every level of nearly all their union rights. The plan allows their unions to collectively bargain only for raises limited to the rate of inflation. It also requires union members to vote each year on whether they want their union to continue representing them in those limited negotiations.

Democrats accused Walker of trying to cripple public labor unions, one of their key constituencies. Walker countered the measure gives state and local governments financial flexibility.

A federal judge in Madison and a federal appeals court panel have both found the law constitutional.

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