Wis. AG asks for stay in union law ruling

Wisconsin's attorney general asked a judge Tuesday to delay his decision repealing major parts of Gov. Scott Walker's law effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers.

J.B. Van Hollen's request just four days after ruling Friday comes as school districts and local governments attempt to understand the ramifications of the decision and whether it opens the door to new negotiations previously barred with unions.

Van Hollen, a Republican, asked that Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas act quickly on the request for a stay of his ruling that overturned the law as it pertained to school and local government workers.

Not taking swift action, Van Hollen argued, would lead to chaos and further confusion given that Walker's law effectively ending collective bargaining has been in effect for more than a year.

"It makes no sense to force a return to a broken system before the appellate process is completed," Van Hollen said in a statement.

Lester Pines, the attorney representing the Madison teachers union which brought the lawsuit, promised to vigorously fight the request to put the ruling on hold.

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"It's not going to be chaotic," Pines said. "We believe that these assertions of chaos are more propaganda than anything else."

While the legal battle continues, those affected by Friday's ruling continued to try to understand its ramifications.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards posted an analysis of the ruling on its website which downplayed its significance, saying the law has not completely restored the situation that existed before the collective bargaining changes took effect last year.

The boards noted that the ruling doesn't reinstate schools and local government "interest arbitration," which since 1978 had given the final say in contract disputes to an independent arbitrator.

Now the dispute resolution process ends with mediation and if no agreement is reached, the employer can implement its last offer.

That means school and local government managers still retain significant control over how final decisions are reached after they meet in good faith and try to reach a voluntary agreement, said Peter Davis, general counsel for the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

"The unstated piece is the question of whether employers are willing to, or able to, or interested in using that leverage they have," Davis said. "That varies substantially from community to community."

Pines said attorneys are studying the full impact of the ruling, including its effect on interest arbitration.

"We haven't conceded that the decision is as limited as some are saying," Pines said.

The real point of the ruling is that it ensures public labor unions won't be destroyed, Pines said.

"That goal of Gov. Walker and his minions has been thwarted," he said. "The unions will be there, they will be representing their employees and the wise employer, knowing that the public employee unions are not going to be squeezed out of existence, now will work with their unions."

The law as passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 applied to all public employees except police, firefighters, local transit workers and emergency medical service employees.

The law limits bargaining on wage increases to the rate of inflation. Other issues, such as workplace safety, vacation and health benefits, were excluded from collective bargaining.

Colas said in his ruling that the law violates the school and local employees' constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation because it capped union workers' raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts.

His ruling applied only to local and school employees, not those employed by the state or the University of Wisconsin System.

The law, championed by Walker to address budget problems, has been the focal point of a broader clash between conservatives and unions over worker rights.