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Wisconsin high court puts collective bargaining to rest

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 8:51 p.m.

Wisconsin's controversial 2011 law that severely limited collective bargaining for public workers, sparked protests and drove the failed effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker was upheld Thursday by the state's highest court.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court closed the book on the last of the major legal disputes over Act 10, ending a three-year legal struggle with its 5-2 decision.

The decision could energize the political career of Walker, who seeks re-election this year and has not ruled out a 2016 run for president.

The issue catapulted Walker into the national spotlight, making him a hero to fellow Republicans and a pariah to Democrats. He survived a 2012 recall election, which emboldened his message that Act 10 will benefit the state economy.

Walker released a statement saying Act 10 saved taxpayers “more than $3 billion,” calling it “a victory for those hard-working taxpayers.” The majority of savings cited by Walker are accurate, local media report, although they say that morale among state workers has been damaged, and recruitment may be difficult.

“This is the end of the pending challenges and is unlikely to be replaced by some persuasive new challenge that hasn't already been attempted,” saidCharles Franklin, a law professor and polling director at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

The court's 5-to-2 decision found that Act 10 does not violate the First Amendment, because collective bargaining powers by labor organizations are a benefit, not an enshrined constitutional right at the federal or state level.

“No matter the limitations or ‘burdens' a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation,” Justice Michael Gableman wrote in the ruling.

Act 10 survived multiple legal challenges.

The measure is not necessarily threatened by the upcoming gubernatorial election, either. Mary Burke, a former state secretary of commerce and Walker's Democratic opponent in November, has backed away from pledging to overturn the law, even though she says she supports the ability of public workers to bargain collectively.

One reason for her position, according to Franklin, is that opinion polls show that most voters agree with elements of the law requiring public workers to contribute more to their retirement and health care benefits.

Another reason is practical: Burke would have no power to overturn the law with both legislative chambers expected to remain under Republican control.

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