The ruling is seen as a victory for Republican Gov. Scott Walker who championed the measure.
Walker staked his governorship on the measure dubbed Act 10
, ultimately winning a recall election before ultimately winning the fight against the power of big public-sector unions. The law that was passed in 2011 led to mass protests organized by Democrats and union bosses. At one point in time protesters occupied and trashed the state capital
, which some say turned formerly innocuous voters against unions.
Thursday’s ruling was viewed as a last chance in the courts for unions to dismantle the collective-bargaining law. Unions for teachers and local government employees, in 2012, won their case against Act 10 at the circuit court level. That ruling gave hope to union leaders after a circuit court judge struck down parts of the law, such as requiring unions to negotiate only over wages and mandating that union locals hold regular elections to re-certify their representation of workers.
However, that ruling went out the window on Thursday when the state’s highest court, in a 5-2 ruling, reversed that decision
, upholding Act 10 in full and dismissing arguments that it violates rights to equal protection and free association.
"Long term, the strategy is to get collective bargaining back. But at this point, Act 10 is done," said Kim Kohlhaas, president of AFT-Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the final decision was well received by Republicans, who since the protests of 2011, control the governorship, state senate and assembly. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tweeted: "It is a great day for Wisconsin conservatives," while Mr. Walker called the ruling "a victory for those hard-working taxpayers."
Union membership in Wisconsin has plummeted since 2011
, forcing unions to merge for solidarity. Membership of the state's largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, has shrunk by a third since 2011, down to about 60,000 members from about 98,000. The AFT-Wisconsin union has lost more than half of its membership, currently showing only about 6,500 members compared to 16,000 three years ago.
Many Wisconsin workers say unions provide little value compared to the cost of membership. In addition, prolonged strikes hit workers in the pocketbook during the slowest economic recovery in US history.
In the face of declining union membership, union Attorney Lester Pines, who represented the unions in the Supreme Court case, said after the ruling that unions will rely more on activism and less on recruitment going forward.