Madison — Gov. Scott Walker's administration no longer is collecting dues on behalf of state unions and, as of Sunday, is charging employees more for their pensions and health care, even though nonpartisan legislative attorneys say the changes are not yet law. Backing up the administration, the state Department of Justice argued that the new law - which eliminates most collective bargaining for public workers - is in effect and asked a judge to vacate a restraining order against the law. Meanwhile, a Dane County prosecutor asked a judge to declare that the law is not now in place. Highlighting the different legal interpretations, some local governments are not implementing the new law for their employees. Officials with the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County said they are waiting for answers from courts before making any changes on benefits and union dues.The Dane County judge who filed the restraining order against the recently-passed bill from Gov. Walker is named Maryann Sumi. It's probably worth mentioning that Judge Sumi refused to order striking Wisconsin teachers back to work and that her son is a career operative for the unions like AFL-CIO and SEIU. More ominously, Judge Sumi issued a statement on Wednesday warning attorneys about their criticisms of how the case was being handled.
Before wrapping up a brief hearing Wednesday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi offered a word of caution to attorneys involved in high-profile lawsuits over collective bargaining in Wisconsin.Some observers consider Sumi's warning very one-sided and note that attorneys are within their rights to criticize the content of a ruling made by a jurist who had decided to insert themselves in the political process.
Sumi said emotions are running high over two cases she is hearing regarding Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate most collective bargaining for public workers. That "spirited debate" is important in a democracy, but attorneys must keep in mind their professional ethics, Sumi said.
"They all have a responsibility to promote and not denigrate the judicial branch and, more importantly, the rule of law," she said.
She advised lawyers to review state Supreme Court rules that say: "A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge...."
She referred to public comments made by attorneys after a Tuesday hearing, but did not elaborate.
Meanwhile two Madison, WI labor unions and Dane County had abandoned efforts to consolidate their complaints over Walker's law after being told doing so would permit the state to bring the case for another judge.
Dane County and two city of Madison labor unions, AFL-CIO Local 236 and Firefighters Local 311, sought to consolidate their separate complaints over the act.Meanwhile, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) circulated a letter threatening a boycott of local businesses that decline to display signs the union is passing out that prominently feature the AFSCME logo on the bottom half.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the state to agree not to seek a substitution of judges before moving forward. But Judge Maryann Sumi said the defendants did not have to bind themselves to that commitment. The motion was then withdrawn.
Sumi also agreed with state attorneys that the motion to combine the cases was likely premature and cautioned attorneys in all cases related to the budget repair bill about their public comments when emotions are running high.
"They all have a responsibility to promote and not denigrate the judicial branch, and more importantly, the rule of law," Sumi said.
The letters ask businesses to express that support by displaying union signs in their windows.The AFSCME effort comes more than two weeks after the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association circulated a letter to Gov. Walker's 2010 campaign donors also threatening a boycott. Interestingly, WPPA executive director Jim Palmer was arrested in December 2009 for drunken driving and never served in law enforcement himself.
"Failure to do so will leave us no choice but (to) do a public boycott of your business," the letter says. "And sorry, neutral means 'no' to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members."
Jim Parrett, a field representative of Council 24 for Southeast Wisconsin, confirmed the contents of the letter, which carries his signature. But he added that the union was also circulating letters to businesses thanking them for supporting workers' rights.
The union-led effort is an outgrowth of a boycott campaign by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and other unions in which M&I Bank and Kwik Trip were targeted because either the companies themselves or their executives supported Gov. Scott Walker's budget initiatives.
Jim Haney, the outgoing head of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a pro-business lobby, said the union effort was appalling. And he said the campaign would backfire.
"It's kind of like the old protection racket," he said. " 'If you have the right sticker, we won't break your knees.' This is beyond the pale to force a small-business person to choose when they want to stay neutral. But that isn't good enough."
In the letter, Parrett writes: "It is unfortunate that you have chosen 'not' to support public workers rights in Wisconsin. In recent past weeks you have been offered a sign by a public employee who works in one of the state facilities in the Union Grove area. These signs simply said, 'This Business Supports Workers Rights,' a simple, subtle and we feel noncontroversial statement given the facts at this time."
Parrett said that since the letters were sent, he has received threatening phone calls as well as calls from people supporting the state workers.
"I've gotten a lot of threatening phone calls," Parrett said.
Parrett said similar letter campaigns had been launched in other parts of the state. His region includes Racine and Kenosha counties as well as parts of Waukesha and Walworth counties.
Parrett referred questions to Marty Beil, the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. Neither Beil nor Phil Neuenfeldt, head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was available for comment.
Exit question: If union honchos like Palmer or Parrett had their way, do you think we would be seeing things like partisan response times from police and firefighters?
[Hat tip- Lonely Conservative, Red State/Labor Union Report, Le.gal In.sur.rec.tion, Weasel Zippers, WisPolitics, Jammie Wearing Fool]