Wisconsin Senate Passes Bill Ending Public Bargaining Rights

Wisconsin Senate Passes Bill Ending Public Bargaining Rights by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism writes on this evening’s news on Wisconsin political conflicts. Reposted.

After claiming repeatedly in the media that the fight to end public worker bargaining rights was all about the budget, Governor Walker stripped the collective bargaining provisions out of the budget (which required the participation of at least one Democrat to have a big enough quorum to satisfy Constitutional requirements for fiscal votes) and the Wisconsin legislature passed it separately.

Details from David Dayen:

If you’ve been following along in my last post, you know the news: the Wisconsin State Senate rushed through and passed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The vote in the State Senate, entirely composed of Republicans, was 18-1; only moderate Dale Schultz voted no. The budget repair bill was split at the last minute, cleaving the “non-fiscal” anti-union piece from the fiscal components of the bill. The non-fiscal piece did not require a quorum, so the Senate was able to pass it.

This may not pass muster constitutionally in Wisconsin. Here is the germane language:

Vote on fiscal bills; quorum. SECTION 8. On the passage in either house of the legislature of any law which imposes, continues or renews a tax, or creates a debt or charge, or makes, continues or renews an appropriation of public or trust money, or releases, discharges or commutes a claim or demand of the state, the question shall be taken by yeas and nays, which shall be duly entered on the journal; and three−fifths of all the members elected to such house shall in all such cases be required to constitute a quorum therein

The language may seem ambiguous (claim of rather than claim on?). But there is likely to be precedent, and if not, the Court would look to the debates at the time the constitution was passed, to resolve the question of intent. It is very likely that the concerns expressed then would extend to both sides of the fiscal equation, that is, tax collection and disbursements, which would thus include obligations like employee contracts.

And Walker said repeatedly that the collective bargaining matter was fiscal. In modern contracts, you often have language in the agreement to exclude the headings from any interpretation. The Constitution would not have such language. So the “fiscal” in the heading would be included in any effort to parse the meaning.

But since the Supreme Court has a Republican majority, that would seem to cast a pall over challenges. But Supreme Court elections are on April 5, and the unions have a lot of support in the state. This bill passage (getting it through the Assembly is guaranteed) is subject to legal challenges not only on Constitutional but also on the basis of violating legislative procedures. And there is talk of a general strike, something which if you had asked me two months ago, I would have deemed to be pretty much impossible in America. They may be permissible if spontaneous, as in bottom up rather than called by union leadership.

Some details of the official version from the Washington Post:

Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate voted Wednesday night to strip nearly all collective bargaining rights from public workers after discovering a way to bypass the chamber’s missing Democrats….

The Senate requires a quorum to take up any measures that spend money. But Republicans on Wednesday split from the legislation the proposal to curtail union rights, which spends no money, and a special conference committee of state lawmakers approved the bill a short time later.

The lone Democrat present on the conference committee, Rep. Tony Barca, shouted that the surprise meeting was a violation of the state’s open meetings law but Republicans voted over his objections. The Senate then convened within minutes and passed it without discussion or debate.

Spectators in the gallery screamed “You are cowards.”

Before the sudden votes, Democratic Sens. Bob Jauch said if Republicans “chose to ram this bill through in this fashion, it will be to their political peril. They’re changing the rules. They will inflame a very frustrated public.”