Madison judge declines to block new Right-to-Work law

MADISON (AP/WITI) — A Madison judge has declined to block Wisconsin's new Right-to-Work law.

Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust rejected a request by three unions to grant temporary injunction blocking the law during a hearing on Thursday, March 19th. The law will remain in effect while the unions' lawsuit proceeds. This is now known as Act 1.

State attorneys say the law is constitutional since it technically doesn't take any money out of union coffers.

Labor unions opposed the measure -- which prevents businesses and labor unions from entering agreements that force workers to pay union dues. A violation, by businesses or unions, would carry criminal penalties of nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The union lawsuit claims Right-to-Work is unconstitutional because federal labor law requires a 'duty of fair representation' forcing unions to bargain on behalf of all workers in the shop -- even those not in the union. That means workers who don't pay dues still receive union-negotiated benefits. Ultimately, the unions contend that means Right-to-Work takes their property without providing compensation.

"If the non-member is allowed not to pay his fair share of the costs, the union is compelled by the state to provide a service without compensation. That is unconstitutional," said Union Attorney Frederick Perillo.

But lawyers for the state argued the law was passed lawfully by the Legislature and Wisconsin would suffer 'irreparable harm' if the democratic process were thwarted.

"This act represents the judgement of the Legislature that citizens of this state should have the freedom not to pay assessments that they were previously obligated to pay," said Assistant Attorney General David Meany.

Similar union-backed lawsuits have been defeated across the country, including in Indiana and Michigan, where courts have upheld Right-to-Work laws.

In the end, Judge Foust sided with the state on the narrow issue of whether to temporarily block the law.

"I'm not persuaded that there is irreparable harm in allowing Act 1 to go into effect as scheduled, so I deny the motion for preliminary injunction," Judge Foust said.

Now Judge Foust must decide the larger question: Is the law unconstitutional because it forces unions to provide service to non-members without compensation? That argument will be made at a future hearing, but the bottom line is the law in in effect as the case continues.

Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt issued this statement:

"Today’s ruling is another injustice for working people. A temporary injunction is intended to halt immediate irreparable harm.  Make no mistake, Right-to-Work will harm all of Wisconsin's workers by driving down wages and weakening safety standards across all industries and workplaces.  Despite this ruling, workers will continue to organize and mobilize, through their unions, to speak out for better wages and workplace conditions for all of Wisconsin’s working people."

Attorney General Brad Schimel released this statement:

"We remain confident the Right-to-Work law ultimately will be upheld as constitutional."