The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO and two local labor unions filed the first lawsuit Tuesday against the new right-to-work law, which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a day earlier.
The lawsuit, which seeks both a temporary and permanent blocking of the law, argues that it is unconstitutional because it requires unions to act on behalf of workers who are no longer required to pay union dues, and therefore receive an unfair benefit.
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A hearing on a request for a temporary restraining order was set for March 19 in Dane County Circuit Court.
Similar lawsuits, in both state and federal court, challenging right-to-work laws in Michigan and Indiana have been unsuccessful. Walker, and Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, said in separate statements that based on those rulings, they expect Wisconsin's law to be upheld as well.
Wisconsin's right-to-work law makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to nine months in jail for a private business to enter into an agreement that requires workers to join a union or pay union dues.
The governor and Republican supporters in the Legislature said the law was about giving workers the freedom to choose whether to join a union and make Wisconsin more attractive for economic development and job growth. Opponents, including a coalition of more than 400 businesses, said the law will result in lower wages for workers, give them fewer rights in the workplace and disrupt a system that's currently working.
Walker, who is taking steps toward a likely presidential run, made his name by curbing the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in 2011. He initially said he didn't want to pursue right-to-work, but then got behind it when Republicans who control the Legislature brought it up and passed it in just two weeks.
The unions argue in the lawsuit that the new law is an unconstitutional taking of their property because non-union dues-paying workers are receiving benefits that unions are required under federal law to deliver.
The right-to-work law "deprives the unions of all methods of charging nonmembers for the services that they receive from the unions," the lawsuit said. "In other words, it requires that unions either provide free services to nonmembers or go out of business entirely."
The AFL-CIO was joined by Machinists Local Lodge 1061 in Milwaukee and the United Steelworkers District 2 in Menasha.
The law, making Wisconsin the 25th right-to-work state, took effect immediately upon Walker's signature on Monday. It passed the Legislature with all Republicans except one for it, and all Democrats against.
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