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Wisconsin judge voids Walker-backed right-to-work law

In yet another election-year blow to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a judge threw out a state right-to-work law that played no small role in his rise as an anti-union crusader.

Judge C. William Foust ruled today for two unions that challenged the 2015 law on the grounds that prohibiting them from collecting fees from non-members to cover their share of collective bargaining costs constituted a “taking” of private property without just compensation under the state constitution.

State Attorney General Brad Schimel said on a local talk show that he would seek a stay of the decision. In a tweet, Walker said, “We are confident Wisconsin’s freedom-to-work law is constitutional and will ultimately be upheld.”

The ruling is somewhat novel, given that federal law has permitted states to pass right-to-work measures since 1947. Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, which Walker championed after his 2014 reelection, was signed into law in March 2015.

Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said in a written statement that right-to-work laws have been passed in 26 states and “have been repeatedly upheld in state and federal court.” Semmens also noted that Walker’s more sweeping Act 10, which scaled back collective bargaining rights for public employees — and led to an unsuccessful recall effort — was similarly struck down by a state judge in the same Wisconsin county. That decision was overturned by the state Supreme Court, Semmens said, and “we are confident” the state’s high court will do the same in this case.

In his ruling, Foust argued that because a union “cannot decline exclusive representative status unless it declines to be voted in at a workplace to begin with,” the union is effectively required to bargain on behalf of non-members as well as members.

Prohibiting the union from collecting fees from non-members, Foust elaborated in his decision, was at odds with the Wisconsin state constitution’s provision that “the property of no person shall be taken for public use without just compensation.” The services that unions must provide to non-members, Foust argued, constitute property.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for one, backed the ruling, saying on Twitter that right-to-work is “wrong for America” and that “we should stand with workers in the fight for their rights.”

The lawsuit was brought by District 10 of the International Association of Machinists, District 2 of the U.S. Steelworkers, and the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

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