Judge Strikes Down Coercive Dues in Wisconsin School District

Ruling: Contract requiring forced dues collection violates 2011 labor reforms

March 27, 2015

A judge in Wisconsin voided a teachers union contract that would have forced educators in the Kenosha Unified School District to pay dues as a condition of employment.

Judge David Bastianelli of the Kenosha County Circuit Court ruled that the school district contracts with the local chapters of three of the largest public sector unions in the country—NEA, AFSCME, and SEIU—violated Gov. Scott Walker’s sweeping labor reforms in 2011. The legislation, Act 10, restricted the use of coercive dues payments for most government workers.

"The [collective bargaining agreements] entered into by the union defendants during November of 2013, were contrary to the provisions of Act 10 and are therefore null and void," the March 19 ruling states.

The lawsuit was filed by a current teacher in the school system, as well as a local taxpayer. The pair contended that the district agreement violated their freedom of association since it required non-member teachers to pay union dues.

"The unlawful agreement contains provisions with respect both to wages and to the factors and conditions of employment that are illegal subjects for collective bargaining between school district and their employees," a September brief filed with the court says. "The agreement requires teachers to pay union dues against their will under a so-called "fair share" provision. Such provisions are expressly prohibited by state law."

The school district abandoned the collective bargaining agreement in June 2014 after the lawsuits were filed. The unions at the center of the case, however, sought to defend the provisions. They argued that the court should respect its contract and the forced dues system because Judge Juan Colás of the Dane County Circuit Court declared Act 10 unconstitutional in 2012. Judge Bastianelli pointed out that the higher courts at the state and federal level had affirmed the legitimacy of the law.

"The defendant unions in this case, as non-parties to Madison Teachers, could not rely on Judge Colas’s decision to enter into contractual agreements with the KUSD that were contrary to the provisions of Act 10.  Not only did another State court declare Act 10 constitutional before entry into the CBAs, but the Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals as early as January, 2013, had also declared such act constitutional; reliance as a non-party was not legally justified," Bastianelli ruled. "The decision of Judge Colas though had no precedential value or statewide effect, particularly in light of its having been appealed."

Neither SEIU Local 168 nor the Kenosha Education Association returned requests for comment. AFSCME Local 2383, which represents Kenosha clerical workers, does not have a website or official office; calls to phone numbers associated with a local union leader went unreturned.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), a non-profit group that aims to end coercive dues schemes. Patrick Semmens, the NRTW’s vice president, said the judgment represents a win for all public sector workers in Wisconsin.

"This ruling holds that Kenosha public school employees cannot be forced to pay union dues or fees to get or keep a job in violation of Act 10," Semmens said in a statement. "This judgment affirms once again that union officials are not above the law."