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Judgeʼs decision on Act 10 renews conversation among UWRF faculty

September 27, 2012

A Dane County Circuit Judge’s Sept. 14 decision to declare Governor Scott Walker’s hot-button law to be unconstitutional has re-ignited conversations concerning collective bargaining and workers rights for UW-River Falls faculty and staff.

Act 10 has been touted as a major component in the current budget surplus that the state of Wisconsin has found itself in, but critics, some who protested in Madison for weeks or even months, worry it goes too far by making specific stipulations which strip collective bargaining rights from teachers and professors.

In Judge Juan Colas’ ruling, he stated that parts of the law “single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by both the Wisconsin and United States Constitution.”

Proponents of Act 10 are criticizing this decision as a partisan ploy by their opponents.

“Friday’s ruling by a Dane County circuit court judge against the budget reforms enacted last year is disappointing and a step backward for our state. It appears that those seeking to stop reform and return Wisconsin to the tax and spend policies of the past will continue to file lawsuits until they get the ruling they want,” Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf, who represents River Falls, said in a statement released on Sept. 17.

Her sentiments are echoed by the secretary of the UWRF College Republicans, Luke Affolter. “It’s another ploy by the opponents of Act 10 to get their way,” Affolter said.

He said that he feels that Judge Colas is going against the will of the people of Wisconsin due to Walker’s victory in the recall election last June. “Wisconsin wants to settle. They want Act 10.” Affolter said he thinks this has all gone on too long. “At some point they need to let it go.”

He contrasted Wisconsin with states like New York and California where he blames “luscious” public sector benefi ts for their flagging economies. “[Act 10] is getting results. We have a budget surplus now.”

Affolter said that he didn’t want people to think that proponents of Act 10 were antiteachers or anti-education.

“It’s not that we hate teachers or public employees or don’t value them, it’s just that we have to be smart,” Affolter said. “If we could pay teachers millions of dollars and could afford it, that would be great.”

Coni Gehler, a professor at UWRF and President of the local American Federation of Teachers union, said she sees things differently and that Judge Colas made his decisions based on legalities and not by focusing on partisan values.

“I feel it’s correct that they have identified constitutional issue with both the state constitution and the federal constitution” Gehler said. “Regardless of what happens with the legal battle, we as human beings and workers have the right to organize and locally form a union and to collectively bargain in the workplace, to advocate for issues of quality in our workplace.”

Gehler said that it is critical to maintain and promote an open dialogue with the administration. “We would start with issues that we brought forth with over a hundred signatures on a petition to the administration last spring and we would go forward and work from there,” Gehler said.

These include bringing salaries to parity with comparable institutions, offering discounts to family members of faculty or staff who wish to attend the University and restoring coverage policies lost under Act 10.

Dr. Kurt Leichtle, a professor at UWRF and an officer of the local AFT union, said he feels that unions are an important part of American history. “Unions are really, in American history, the voice of the workers that works as a counter to the voice of the larger economic system in a way, and that’s as it should be,” Leichtle said.

He said that this is likely just another step in a long process. “The flow of unions and union recognition is one that’s always a long haul. It’s time. We’re essentially now in a position where we are working to redo that recognition,” Leichtle said.

Governor Walker has vowed to appeal the court’s decision, ensuring that this is not the end of this issue.