Since 2011, Governor Scott Walker’s signature public-sector collective bargaining reform has withstood venomous union protests at the state capitol, fleeing state legislators, and sparked a recall election.
The state Supreme Court overturned a Dane County judge ruling that determined major portions of Act 10, which curtailed the range of issues that government unions may bargain for, violated unions’ rights of free speech and free association.
However, in the state Supreme Court ruling, the majority rejected the union argument that prohibiting forced union dues payments and automatic dues deductions violated the constitutional rights of unions.
“The plaintiffs have insisted at every stage of litigation in this case that they are not arguing a constitutional right exists to collectively bargain. It is evident, however, that they really are, for without such a constitutional right, their challenge fails,” wrote Justice Michael Gableman for the majority.
“We reject the plaintiffs’ argument that several provisions of Act 10, which delineate the rights, obligations and procedures of collective bargaining, somehow infringe upon general employees’ constitutional right to freedom of association.”
“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect.”
As Gov. Walker commented after the ruling, “Today’s ruling is a victory for those hard-working taxpayers.” And I’ll add that cementing Act 10 as the law of the land is a win for worker freedom in Wisconsin, at least for public-sector workers.
So far, Act 10 has achieved nearly $3 billion in total savings throughout Wisconsin state and local governments, in addition to school districts.
As the MacIver Institute reports, the majority of savings were achieved by increasing government employees’ contributions to their own pension and healthcare benefits, which was desperately needed (see the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s new report, Understanding Public Pension Debt). Prior to Act 10, “taxpayers forked over $1.37 billion for state pensions, while employees only paid $8 million.”
Another source of savings came from Act 10 giving local governments and school districts the flexibility to choose any health care plan, saving taxpayers millions. Before Wisconsin’s largest teachers union (Wisconsin Education Association) held a government healthcare monopoly.
Previously, WEA Trust provided health insurance to two-thirds of Wisconsin school districts under exclusive agreements made possible by the unions’ collective bargaining power. Act 10 enabled school districts the freedom to choose their health insurance providers.
On top of taxpayer savings, Act 10 also afforded government workers greater freedom when it comes to their own representation and paycheck. Act 10 allowed public-sector workers to decide for themselves whether they want union representation, ended the use of taxpayer resources to automatically deduct union dues from government employee paychecks, requires annual union recertification elections, and caps the amount of wage increases that may be negotiated.
From the looks of it, Wisconsin government workers have taken kindly to their newfound freedom. In 2013, teachers at 81 separate school districts decertified their unions.
Act 10 resulted in massive taxpayer savings and enhanced worker freedom. Hopefully, other states that provide little worker choice or have budget problems will take a cue from the Badger state and implement similar collective bargaining reform.