Wisconsin judge reinstates collective bargaining for state employees

Crowds protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin March 12, 2011. (REUTERS / Darren Hauck)
The union-busting law that pushed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker into the national spotlight last year has been declared unconstitutional by a state judge, pushing the controversy over the law one step closer to a Supreme Court climax.

­Circuit Judge Juan Colas, of Dane County, where the state's capital, Madison, is located, ruled that the law was null and void as it violated both the state and US Constitution.

Collective bargaining rights had been effectively eliminated for most of the state's public employees after the law's passage as part of something called the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill in March 2011. The law, passed in the Wisconsin Legislature, pitched savings on the backs of public employees by upping their health care costs, retooling pensions and doing away with their right to bargain over wages (with the exception of state troopers).

The law caused protests across the state, and its unpopularity was a driving force behind the recall election for Governor of Wisconsin this June, in which Walker received just enough votes to remain in his post.

Colas' decision follows a lawsuit brought by the Madison teachers union and a union representing municipal employees of Milwaukee, the state's largest city.

Legal observers are not sure whether the ruling means the law will be immediately suspended, with Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reporting that for now, it will remain in force for employees of the State of Wisconsin, despite a federal judge having struck down that part of the law as unconstitutional earlier this year. City, county and school district employees, meanwhile, will have their right to collective bargaining returned to its status prior to the passage of Walker's law.

The decision raises myriad new questions regarding pay, benefits and other work-related rules that came into effect after the law killed collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public employees.

And unless the decision is overturned on appeal, municipal authorities and school districts will once again have to sit down with their employees to bargain over working conditions.