Supporters of public-sector compensation reform won a significant battle last week as a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 reforms against union challenges to their constitutionality.
The reform effort sparked nearly two years of pitched political battles at the Capitol in Madison. Skirmishes included: multiple legislative recall elections, bullhorn-toting union activists demonstrating throughout the city, and Democratic legislators decamping to Illinois to deny legislative Republicans a quorum necessary to hold a crucial vote.
Act 10 had two basic elements, financial and structural. First, the law mandated that most state employees pay half the cost of their retirement benefits and to significantly increase their contributions to an underfunded medical system. Second, the law outlawed the use of collective bargaining on all issues except for those related to wage increases. It also required unions to submit to an annual certification vote and halted the use of mandatory union-dues payroll deductions.
Ultimately, the centerpiece of the union counterattack – a recall of Gov. Walker – failed to win support from the same Wisconsin electorate that later last year voted by large margins to re-elect Democratic President Barack Obama.