A crowd rallies outside the Wisconsin State Capitol as the state Assembly debates the right-to-work bill in March 2015.

AMBER ARNOLD -- State Journal

A Dane County judge on Friday formally barred the state from enforcing Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, finalizing a decision he handed down last week and setting the stage for state attorneys to appeal.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state will seek a stay of the ruling and appeal the decision next week.

Circuit Judge William Foust last week struck down parts of the right-to-work law, which prohibits unions and employers from entering agreements that require all employees to pay fees to a union, either in the form of membership dues or “fair share” payments for those who opt out of joining a union but are still represented by it. Foust said the law unconstitutionally takes union property without compensation.

On Friday, he issued a final order on his decision after the unions that sued the state and the state Department of Justice made dueling proposals on final order language, and about a year after the law took effect.

“We wholeheartedly disagree with Judge Foust’s decision and final order,” Schimel said in a statement. “I am confident the law ultimately will be upheld and Wisconsin will remain a right-to-work state.”

DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said DOJ attorneys will seek a stay of the ruling and file an appeal with Foust on Monday.

In a memorandum regarding DOJ’s objection to the decision, Foust said he would be glad to hear arguments from both sides on whether a stay is appropriate if one of the parties files a motion.

Foust also emphasized that he believes barring the state from enforcing the law is the right decision, noting that the law creates a misdemeanor crime for anyone who violates it.

“The right of the union to be paid for work it performs is not trivial,” Foust wrote. “Act 1 makes it a crime for the union to require someone to pay for the services he or she receives from the union. Enjoining the attorney general and the state from pursuing criminal prosecutions is appropriate relief.”

The AFL-CIO and two other private-sector unions sued the state, arguing state and federal law require unions to provide collective bargaining services to all employees in a represented workplace, regardless of whether they pay union dues. That made the state’s right-to-work law an illegal “taking” of their services, they argued.

Foust agreed, writing that under the various labor laws and the right-to-work law “a free-rider problem is born — the ability of non-members to refuse to pay for something unions are compelled to provide by law.”

“In another positive step for working people Judge Foust today affirmed the decision to overturn Right to Work in Wisconsin which will restore important rights for workers,” Wisconsin AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale said in a statement. “In order to rebuild our economy and raise wages working people need strong unions in the workplace.”

The Associated Press and State Journal reporter Ed Treleven contributed to this report.


Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.