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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 50.0° F  Overcast
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Will judge's decision stand on Wisconsin's collective bargaining law?
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Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas

Last Friday, Dane County Judge Juan Colas partially overturned Act 10, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights for most Wisconsin public employees last year. Gov. Scott Walker's office released a terse, bitter reaction in which he calls Colas a "liberal activist judge in Dane County." Ouch.

Lester Pines, the attorney representing Madison Teachers Inc. in the lawsuit that challenged Act 10, bristles at the criticism of Colas.

"Anytime there's a decision that calls into question their behavior, they repeat the same tired tune: 'The judge was biased against us, the judge created law from the bench, the judge ignored the will of the people,'" says Pines, who notes that Colas upheld part of the law. "It's propaganda because they're trying to systematically undermine the judiciary because they don't control the judiciary."

Legal observers are divided over whether Colas' decision will hold up under appeal. How can Wisconsin's restrictions on labor organizing be unconstitutional when other states have even more restrictive laws?

Explains Pines: "When you make available to employees the right to associate in a union, and have that union be the sole agent to speak on behalf of employees... you cannot burden that right in the manner which the Legislature burdened it."

Paul Secunda, an associate law professor at Marquette University with a specialty in labor law, sees things differently.

"I've certainly never been a fan of Act 10 and think it does violence to collective bargaining rights," he says. "Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's going to be upheld on appeal. There are arguments that Judge Colas uses that are somewhat novel in his approach. It doesn't rely on a lot of previous legal cases.

"He finds that collective bargaining is a fundamental right," Secunda says. "It certainly is not under the U.S. Constitution."

But Secunda admits that there could be more surprises in this ongoing saga. "I don't know where the end is."

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