A Small Victory for Women in the War on Unions

By Lauren Jee, NOW Law Intern

Many public employees in Wisconsin emitted a sigh of relief today when Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi struck down Republican Governor Scott Walker’s much-contested proposal to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.

After Gov. Walker’s efforts to push through legislation that limited collective bargaining to wages, tens of thousands of protesters and activists descended on the State Capitol in Madison with some spending many days and nights in the capitol’s rotunda. NOW activists called attention to the fact that Walker’s bill targeted teachers, nurses, childcare workers and home healthcare workers, i.e., public unions largely comprised of women.

Gov. Walker claims that by stripping public workers (except police, firefighters and state troopers) of their collective bargaining rights and by making all levels of public workers contribute more to their pension and health care costs, the state could save $300 million through mid-2013.

In other words, the best way to overcome a budget deficit is to pay trusted public employees less and in order to get away with paying them less we’ll just make sure they can’t unionize.

In the Republican-controlled legislature, the bill passed in March even though 14 Democratic senators fled the state to prevent a 20-member quorum needed to pass the bill. However, Republicans desperate to pass the bill possibly violated Wisconsin’s open meeting statute during the approval process. As a result, Judge Sumi declared the law void.

Perhaps most entertaining is that Republicans fuming over Judge Sumi’s decision are now labeling Sumi an “activist” judge even though she was appointed to the bench by former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. Conservatives are prone to labeling judges as “activists” only when they disagree with their rulings.

Although this is a small victory in the War on Unions; it is important. With the Wisconsin Supreme Court scheduled to hear the case on June 6, Judge Sumi may be the only bulwark keeping Governor Walker from stripping unions of their rights.

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