One day after the state Supreme Court cleared the way for Gov. Scott Walker's controversial bill limiting collective bargaining to become law, several labor organizations filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to prevent some of its provisions from taking effect in federal court.
The groups are challenging the constitutionality of the bill they say would destroy collective bargaining rights for all but a select group of public sector workers deemed "public safety" employees, including certain firefighters and law enforcement officers.
"Scott Walker has created two classes of public sector workers, and that is unconstitutional," Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said in a statement. "When a legislature discriminates among classes of workers, especially when doing so has more to do with political payback than with any legitimate reasoning, the law has been violated."
The lawsuit also claims the bill violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by eliminating basic rights of public employees to bargain, organize and associate for the purpose of engaging in union activity — rights that have been in place for the last half century.
According to the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, the lawsuit only seeks to preserve the right to bargain and freely associate and does not seek to prevent the increased pension and health insurance contribution requirements that are included in the law.
The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin State Employees Union, Wisconsin Council of County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME District Council 48 representing Milwaukee County municipal employees, AFT-Wisconsin, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. In addition to Walker, it names state Department of Administration Secretary Michael Huebsch, Office of State Employee Relations Director Gregory L. Gracz and members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Unlike the state lawsuit the Supreme Court dismissed this week, the federal case does not seek to prevent Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, the last step before it can take effect. La Follette said Wednesday that he plans to publish the law on June 28 unless a federal judge orders him not to.
Walker responded to the suit saying, "I think overwhelmingly the people of the state feel the legal action is done and it's time to move forward."