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Gov. Scott Walker signs right-to-work legislation on Monday morning at Badger Meter in Brown Deer. The Assembly passed the measure Friday morning following almost 24 hours of debate. The measure bans labor contracts that would make it mandatory for workers to pay union fees.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO and two other labor organizations filed suit Tuesday against the state’s newly enacted right-to-work law, claiming it is unconstitutional because it compels unions to act on behalf of workers no longer required by the law to pay union dues as a condition of employment, providing an unfair benefit.

The arrangement is an unconstitutional transfer of property from the unions to non-members who no longer have to pay dues to receive services that unions are required to provide under federal labor laws, according to the lawsuit.

The suit is the first to be filed since Gov. Scott Walker signed right-to-work into law on Monday after the bill was fast-tracked through the Republican-controlled Legislature last week.

Walker and fellow Republicans say the law will put Wisconsin on an equal footing with Michigan and Indiana, which also have right-to-work laws on their books, boosting the economy by spurring business.

The unions are asking that the law immediately be blocked, first through a temporary restraining order and then a permanent injunction. A hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for Thursday before Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust.

Lawsuits challenging the Indiana and Michigan right-to-work laws have not fared well, although some parts of a lawsuit in Michigan have survived and will be heard in July.

“We are confident Wisconsin’s freedom-to-work law is constitutional and will be upheld as it has been in federal court,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Tuesday.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said he was also confident that the law would be upheld.

Wisconsin’s law, modeled on those in Michigan and Indiana, forbids requiring union membership as a condition of employment or the required payment of dues or other charges to a labor organization. It also criminalizes violations of the law.

With unions required by federal law to provide services to non-members, but prohibited from collecting dues from non-members as a condition of employment, the government is effecting a “taking of the unions’ property,” the unions wrote in a memorandum supporting the restraining order and injunction, “in the name of promoting a positive business climate in the state. The prohibition on collection of fair share fees thus takes the property of a private organization for a public person without just compensation.”

Unions must spend money and devote human resources to negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements, the memorandum states, and under the law, a union in Wisconsin is now “required to spend its treasury and devote the services of agents” in representing both union members and non-members.

In addition to the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, the plaintiffs include the International Association of Machinists District 10 and its Local Lodge 1061, both in Milwaukee, and United Steelworkers District 2 in Menasha.

Defendants in addition to the state include Walker, Schimel, Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission chairman James Scott and WERC commissioner Rodney Pasch.


Ed Treleven is the courts reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.