By Jonathan Stempel
Jan 18 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday upheld
a controversial Wisconsin law that restricts the power of
public-sector unions, the passage of which sparked an
unsuccessful effort to recall the state's Republican Governor,
By a 2-1 vote, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Chicago found that the 2011 law is constitutional, rejecting
claims that it violated the equal protection and First Amendment
rights of union members.
It reversed part of a March 2012 ruling by U.S. District
Judge William Conley in Madison, Wisconsin.
Seven of Wisconsin's largest public-sector unions, including
the Wisconsin Education Association Council, had sued to
overturn the law, known as Act 10.
"Wisconsin educators are extremely disappointed with the
appeals court ruling," the group's president Mary Bell said in a
statement. She called the law "a ploy to eliminate workers'
rights to have a voice through their union - political payback
for citizens who didn't endorse the governor."
WEAC is reviewing the decision to determine its next steps,
The law had been enacted by Wisconsin's Republican-led
legislature as part of an effort to close a multibillion-dollar
state budget deficit.
It barred public sector workers, known as "general
employees," from collective bargaining on issues other than base
wages, imposed tough recertification requirements and barred
employers from automatically deducting union dues from
A select group of "public safety employees" and their unions
were not subject to these new requirements.
Writing for the 7th Circuit majority, Circuit Judge Joel
Flaum said Conley correctly upheld the statute's limits on
But the 7th Circuit also reversed Conley's decision to void
provisions that provided for annual union recertification votes
and which banned the automatic dues deductions.
GOVERNOR CALLS DECISION A TAXPAYER VICTORY
Flaum said Wisconsin had a rational basis to adopt Act 10,
even if it may have favored particular political groups.
"As unfortunate as it may be, political favoritism is a
frequent aspect of legislative action," he wrote.
Circuit Judge David Hamilton dissented from the part of the
decision on dues deductions.
In a statement, Walker called the decision a victory for
state taxpayers, saying said Act 10 was needed to help Wisconsin
close a $3.6 billion deficit without tax increases, mass layoffs
of public sector employees and cuts to programs such as
The Wisconsin governor survived a recall election last June,
after the law's passage had sparked nationwide protests and
efforts to remove him from office.
The law also forced most state workers to pay more for
health insurance and pensions, and curbed pay raises.
Last September, in a Wisconsin state court proceeding, Dane
County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas declared the law
unconstitutional because it violated the free speech and equal
protection rights of union members. Wisconsin has been appealing
Flaum was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan.
Joining his opinion was Circuit Judge William Bauer, an
appointee of President Gerald Ford. Hamilton was appointed to
the 7th Circuit by President Barack Obama.
The case is Wisconsin Education Association Council et al v.
Walker et al, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 12-1854,
12-2011 and 12-2058.
(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog and Nate Raymond)
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