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Wisconsin Right-to-Work Law Survives Appeal

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Anti-union 'right-to-work' laws have been controversial since their inception in the 1940s. And although 28 states currently have right-to-work laws on the books, those laws have faced their fair share of legal challenges.

Most recently, Wisconsin passed a right-to-work law in 2015, and the statute just survived its latest legal challenge at the state's 3rd District Court of Appeals.

Federal and State Labor Laws

Right-to-work laws weaken union bargaining power by prohibiting labor agreements requiring employees to either join a union or pay dues and fees to it in order to get or keep a job. With fewer members and less money, the threat of collective action is diminished. At the same time, employees who do not voluntarily pay dues and initiation fees are still allowed to receive the benefits the union provides.

While the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 blocked state regulation of labor relations in interstate commerce, the subsequent Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 rolled those restrictions back, expressly authorizing the states to pass right-to-work laws. Over half of all state right-to-work laws were passed in the 10 years following Taft-Hartley, 10 in 1947 alone.

Badger State Labor Law

Another six states enacted their right-to-work legislation since 2010. As Reuters notes, Wisconsin's law was spearheaded by "leading union antagonist" Governor Scott Walker. The law passed in 2015, amid staunch protests in the state capitol. It has been the subject of litigation ever since, though it has remained in effect with the issue of its constitutionality has been argued in the courts.

The most recent appeals court ruling actually reinstates the law after a lower-court ruled it violated the state constitution in 2016. Earlier this year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago dismissed a similar challenge in federal court. And the fight may not be over -- the case could conceivably wind its way to Wisconsin's supreme court.

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