Wisconsin’s Right to Work Law Upheld

By: Thomas W. Mackenzie and Kristofor L. Hanson

In a decision issued September 19, 2017, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld as constitutional Wisconsin’s so-called “Right to Work” law (Act 1), which outlawed mandatory union membership as a condition of employment.

Prior to the law becoming effective on March 11, 2015, the International Association of Machinists District 10, the United Steelworkers District 2, and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO filed an action in Dane County challenging the constitutionality of Act 1.  The Unions’ theory was that because unions are required to fairly represent all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, a law prohibiting unions from receiving just compensation for those services constitutes an unlawful “taking” under the Wisconsin constitution.  Dane County Circuit Court Judge C. William Foust agreed with the Unions, concluding that requiring Unions to represent non-members without compensation constituted a “taking” and threatened the Unions’ “very economic viability.”

The State Attorney General’s Office appealed Judge Foust’s decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed Judge Foust’s decision, concluding that Unions have no constitutional entitlement to the fees of non-members.  The Court found that Act 1 did not preclude Unions from receiving just compensation for the services provided to non-members; it merely precluded the Union from collecting those fees from the non-members themselves.  In other words, Unions will have to look to other sources (e.g. union members) to fund the duty of fair representation owed to members and non-members alike.

The Court’s decision is not surprising.  Wisconsin became the 25th state with a “Right to Work” statute.  That number has climbed to 28 states since Wisconsin’s enactment of the law.  These provisions have withstood similar constitutional challenges in other forums.  The Unions have the right to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court but, given the current composition of that Court, success will be hard to find.

To view the Court of Appeals decision clicks here.


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