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Broad coalition of Wisconsin unions files federal lawsuit to block anti-worker bill


WASHINGTON - June 15, 2011 -

A broad coalition of Wisconsin unions, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s Budget Repair Bill. The bill would gut collective bargaining rights for all but a select group of public workers who belong to unions that supported Gov. Scott Walker in the last election. WEAC is an affiliate of the National Education Association. NEA worked to develop the lawsuit and will assist with its litigation. The lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. 

“NEA stands in solidarity with WEAC in working to right the wrongs of Gov. Walker and his deep-pocketed allies,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA. “Under the guise of fixing the budget, the governor and his supporters railroaded opponents of their anti-worker agenda. This bill is an effort to silence the voices of working Wisconsinites, and it’s unconscionable.”

The lawsuit charges that the Budget Repair Bill violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by stripping away basic rights to bargain, organize and associate to engage in union and political activity from most Wisconsin public sector employees. These rights have been in place for the last half century. Only employees working in job classifications, represented by the handful of unions that supported Gov. Walker in the last election, were spared from these punitive cutbacks.

“A stable middle class is essential to rebuilding our economy,” said Van Roekel.  Union jobs were key in developing a vibrant middle class and now labor unions must work together to defeat the likes of Gov. Walker and the Koch brothers who appear to be set on a course to dismantle the middle class, one union worker at a time.”  

The suit contends that it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution for a legislature to discriminate among classes of public employees, particularly when doing so does not advance legitimate policy objectives and instead simply rewards political allies and punishes political opponents.

The lawsuit seeks to block some, but not all, of the provisions of the Budget Repair Bill that enact this discriminatory treatment into law.  The unions are not asking the court to block the new pension and health insurance contribution requirements imposed by the bill.  The unions have long been on record that they accept these substantial economic cuts and seek only to preserve their basic rights to bargain and freely associate.     

“We should not push the Constitution aside to achieve a partisan political agenda,” added Van Roekel. “I hope the court moves quickly to put the brakes on these bad choices. We may not always agree, but the democratic process is enhanced by the ability to share, not stifle ideas and opinions.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
3.2  million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Ramona Parks-Kirby  (202) 822-7823, rparks@nea.org