The Wisconsin Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the state's right-to-work law was constitutional and ordered a district court to dismiss a union lawsuit on Tuesday.
The three-judge panel effectively ended a suit from a coalition of the state's largest labor unions seeking to block the 2015 law, known as Act 1, from taking effect. The Court said the unions failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the law, which prohibits companies from mandating union membership as a condition of employment, violated the state Constitution by unlawfully denying them property without compensation.
"Act 1 does not take property within the meaning of the Wisconsin Constitution. … The Unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-member employees," the ruling says.
The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO, United Steelworkers District 2, and International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 10, as well as IAM Lodge 1061, argued the law would force them to continue representing workers who stopped paying dues. A district court judge agreed the law would create a "free rider" problem for the unions because federal law requires them to continue providing representation services to workers in a bargaining unit regardless of membership status. The Court of Appeals rejected the argument, concluding, "no property interest has been taken." It directed the lower court to dismiss the suit.
"Act 1 does not deprive compensation for those mandated services. The law merely prohibits anyone from conditioning a person’s employment on the payment of monies designed to cover the costs of performing that duty of fair representation, " the ruling says. "We therefore reverse the judgment and remand to the circuit court with directions to dismiss the complaint."
None of the four unions returned requests for comment.
Right to work supporters celebrated the decision, saying that the constitutionality of the law was not in doubt. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation, called the decision a rejection of "the frivolous arguments brought by union officials" and a "win for worker freedom."
"The constitutionality of right to work laws is a long settled question and Wisconsin union officials should stop wasting taxpayer dollars and workers’ dues money in their desperate attempt to restore their power to have workers fired simply for refusing to pay money as a condition of employment," Mix said in a release.
The Wisconsin ruling was the second major legal victory for right to work laws in as many days.
The West Virginia Supreme Court threw out a lower court injunction that blocked the state from implementing its 2016 law on Monday. The Court majority declared that the union challenge was unlikely to survive constitutional examination and sent the case back down to circuit court. Unlike the unanimous decision in Wisconsin, one West Virginia justice dissented and another dissented in part, though they have yet to publish those dissents.