Judge Temporarily Blocks Wisconsin Anti-Union Law

A U.S. judge on Friday temporarily blocked a controversial new law in Wisconsin that strips public employee unions of key collective bargaining rights.

Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi granted a restraining order stopping official publication of the bill, which was passed by the Midwestern state's Republican-controlled legislature and signed by its Republican Governor Scott Walker last week.

Her ruling did not overturn the law but prevented it from being officially published, effectively blocking it while she considered a complaint filed by the Dane County district attorney, who argued Republican lawmakers violated state open meetings laws by failing to give adequate notice of the vote.

A spokesman for Scott Fitzgerald, the top GOP state senator and one of the targets of the complaint, declined to comment on the ruling, saying "it's an ongoing legal issue."

Sumi still has to rule on the merit of the complaint, which asked that the law be voided.

But even if it were overturned, Republicans could return to the legislature, where they control both houses, and pass it again in compliance with the open meetings laws.

The judge's order gives public workers in the state more time to bargain new and better contracts with municipal authorities -- deals that could allow them to skirt the law's strict measures during the length of these contracts.

"This legislation is still working through the legal process," Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman, said in reaction to the order. "We are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future."

The law polarized the state, among the first to give public employees the right to unionize, triggering the biggest protests since the Vietnam War and making Wisconsin a focal point of a national debate over unions and the public purse.

Other states with Republican governors have mulled similar measures curbing collective bargaining by teachers, highway workers, nurses and other public servants.

Walker, who signed the bill after weeks of protests in the state capital, has said it is aimed at protecting taxpayers and employment, arguing it will improve the business climate and help the state's private sector create 250,000 jobs.

He said the state needed the restrictions on bargaining to deal with funding shortfalls as it contended with a $3.6 billion deficit in the upcoming two-year budget.

Critics have questioned whether the bill would save money, saying instead it was a smoke screen to break the unions.