Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin’s Right-to-Work Law

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, July 21, 2017

On July 12, 2017, a three judge panel in the seventh circuit unanimously affirmed District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller’s ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed by two International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) locals that challenged the validity of Wisconsin’s right-to-work law. Judge Stadtmueller’s dismissal in September 2016 was based on the seventh circuit Sweeney v. Pence 2014 decision that upheld Indiana’s “nearly identical” law.

The Wisconsin law provides that “no person may require, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual to…become or remain a member of a labor organization [or] pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value, to a labor organization.”

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Black and white gavel

In Sweeney, the seventh circuit determined that the National Labor Relations Act did not preempt Indiana’s right–to-work law, even if it prohibited the mandatory payment of any dues or fees to unions, and it did not result in a taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The court reasoned that unions are “justly compensated by federal law’s grant to [unions] the right to bargain exclusively with…employer[s].”

On this appeal, the IUOE conceded that Sweeney controlled, but argued that it was wrongly decided and should be overturned. The IUOE relied on a strong dissent in Sweeney and the close en banc vote to rehear it. Writing for the panel, however, Judge Joel Flaum rejected these arguments and noted that they were not “compelling reasons” to overturn a recent decision. Judge Flaum also added that the unions failed to direct the court to any intervening development in statutory, Supreme Court, or other intermediate appellate court decision undermining Sweeney’s validity.

The seventh circuit’s decision affirming the Wisconsin’s 2015 law suggests a continuing trend favoring the right-to-work movement at the judicial and legislative levels of government. In February of this year, Missouri enacted its right-to-work law becoming the 28th state with a right-to-work law on the books, closely following Kentucky’s adoption of its own law in January. Opponents in Missouri have sought a referendum seeking to repeal the law, but their efforts suffered a setback when union-led referendum summaries were ruled “unfair and insufficient.” In Kentucky, labor organizations have sued seeking to block the law.

At the federal level, Republican Congressmen Steve King of Iowa and Joe Wilson of South Carolina re-introduced the National Right to Work Act bill (an effort that went nowhere in 2015) in the hope that a Trump administration would approve such legislation. Within a month, Senator Paul Rand of Kentucky introduced similar legislation in the Senate. These bills would amend the National Labor Relations Act and Railway Labor Act to prohibit the use of union security clauses requiring union membership and payment of dues and fees.

Where all of this leads is unclear, but we can be certain of one thing for the near future – this battle will continue to be fought all across the country.

Right-to-Work: Who’s Got Next?

Contributed by Beverly Alfon

Despite labor’s historical stronghold in the Midwest – Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee and now, Wisconsin – have become Right-to-Work (RTW) states.  Is Illinois next?  What does this mean for employers?

RTW In a Nutshell: Money and Power

In the 25 states that have not passed RTW laws, including Illinois and Missouri, a union security clause in a collective bargaining agreement requires all employees in the bargaining unit to either be a dues/fee-paying union member – or a non-member who pays “fair share” fees.  The battle is over the non-member “fair share” fees which are used to supplement dues cash flow used for, among other things, local and international officer salaries, overhead costs and political lobbying.

In the 25 states that have passed RTW laws, a non-member at a unionized workplace is no longer required to pay any fees to the union – even if s/he is benefitting from union representation.  Financially, RTW is a major blow to unions.  From an organizing standpoint, it is equally damning.  An individual is far less likely to become or remain a union member if s/he can benefit from representation without having to pay.  After all, a union owes a legal duty of fair representation to all individuals in the bargaining unit – regardless of member status.

Proponents of RTW laws argue that they attract new business and promote expansion of existing businesses because of the likely decline of union strength and numbers.  Opponents of RTW laws argue that employee wages, benefits and protections will deteriorate as a result of lower union representation.

The Pulse 

Missouri: Even if the RTW bill before the Missouri legislature fails this year, GOP representatives are celebrating.  Last month, in a 91-64 vote, the House approved a RTW bill.  Despite the possibility of defeat in the Senate and expected veto of Gov. Jay Nixon, the RTW movement has clearly gained significant ground.  It would only take 109 votes in the House to override a veto.

Illinois:  Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order allowing state employees to opt out of paying union dues.  AFSCME, Illinois AFL-CIO and 25 other unions filed suit last week challenging the executive order.  Meanwhile, Rauner has filed his own lawsuit asking the courts to confirm his position that fair share fees violate workers’ First Amendment rights.

Wisconsin:  Last week, a group of unions filed suit to challenge the recently enacted RTW law.  Notably, union challenges to the constitutionality of RTW laws in Michigan and Indiana have failed.

Kentucky:  Under home rule, in December 2014, Warren County, Ky., adopted a countywide RTW ordinance after it became clear the state legislature was not going to pass a RTW bill.  Since last year, 11 counties have passed local RTW laws, including several along the Tennessee border.

What to Expect Right Now 

Expect an uptick in union activity as unions ramp up “internal organizing” to prove that membership has its benefits.  Frontline management will also likely receive increasing questions from employees about what all of this means.  Now is the time to consider re-training your supervisors and managers about what they can say and do when these discussions arise.  Finally, stay tuned as these legal and legislative battles continue to develop.

Pregnancy? Parental Leave? Social Media? Data Breaches? Your State Employment Law Update

Contributed by Heather Bailey

Florida: After much debate in the lower courts, it is settled – employers may not discriminate against pregnant workers in FLA (you couldn’t before under Federal law, but FLA confirms the same).

Iowa:  If you have to notify at least 500 state residents including your employees and applicants of any potential personal information security breach, you must also notify the Iowa Attorney General’s Office of the same.

Maryland: Do you have between 15 – 49 employees?  If so, beginning October 1, 2014, you must provide similar FMLA leave of up to 6 unpaid weeks for parental leave for the birth of a child or adoption and foster care situations.

Minnesota: Beginning August 1, 2014, you must add in your Employee Handbooks a notice that employers are not allowed to retaliate against employees for requesting or receiving reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy or child birth (which took effect on May 12, 2014 requiring employers to give such reasonable accommodations).   Also effective on this same date, employers cannot prohibit or have a policy or practice prohibiting employees from discussing their wages.

MissouriThe pending Right to Work bill died in the house before getting to the senate.  Additionally, in a 5-2 decision, the Missouri Supreme Court said that you only need to use the “contributing factor” standard in a workers’ compensation retaliation claim.  This reversed 30+ years of MO courts requiring “exclusive causation.”

Tennessee:  Beginning July 1 this year, Tennessee went pro-management this time.  Managerial and supervisory employees will now be shielded from individual liability under the Tennessee Human Rights Act for discrimination claims.  Moreover, employees will now have to show their protected activity was the sole reason for their discharge as opposed to it being just one of the reasons in order to sustain a retaliatory discharge claim.  Tennessee now allows employers to prohibit those employees with handgun permits from storing or transporting firearms or ammunition in company vehicles.

West Virginia: Your minimum wage increases on January 1, 2015 to $8.00 an hour and to $8.75 per hour as of January 1, 2016.

Wisconsin:  Getting on the band wagon, WI employers are now prohibited from requiring applicants or employees to give their personal login information for their personal social media sites or require the company’s monitoring of the sites as a condition of them to remain employed.  Moreover, good news for employers is that you no longer need to keep track of a salaried employee’s hours worked for those who are exempt from overtime.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…Oh My! What Wisconsin Employers Need to Know Before Requesting Access to an Employee’s Social Media Account…

Contributed by Samantha Esmond

On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, signed into law the “Wisconsin Social Media Protection Act.” The act went into effect on April 10, 2014, and places restrictions on the types of information that Wisconsin employers can and cannot seek from employees and/or job applicants regarding their personal social media accounts.

The act prohibits employers from requesting an employee or applicant to grant access to their personal internet account (i.e., internet based accounts created and used by an individual exclusively for personal communications, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and likewise prohibits employers from requesting an employee or applicant to disclose information that would allow access or observation of their personal account. The term “access information” means requesting an employee or applicant’s user name and password, login information, or any other security information that protects access to a personal internet account.

Employers are prohibited from discharging, refusing to hire, or otherwise discriminating against any person who refuses its request to grant access to a personal internet account, for opposing such proscribed practices, or for filing a complaint relating to an improper request. The act provides for the imposition of a $1,000 penalty, in addition to other remedies, for noncompliance.

Right about now you are probably asking yourself – does this act apply to me? The answer is almost certainly, YES! The act broadly defines an “employer” as “any person engaging in any activity, enterprise, or business employing at least one individual,” and specifically includes the state and its political subdivisions. Additionally, the act places similar prohibitions on requests to access of personal Internet accounts by landlords with respect to tenants and prospective tenants and by educational institutions with regard to students and prospective students.

There are several key exceptions in the act, including, among others, that employers may still review information that is publicly available or that can be found in the public domain (i.e., Google). Notably, the act also authorizes employers to continue to conduct investigations, with reasonable cause, relating to the unauthorized transfer of company proprietary, financial, or confidential information or of any other alleged employment-related misconduct. The act further permits employers to require disclosure of access information in order to gain access or to operate an electronic communication device supplied or paid for in whole or in part by the company.

Bottom Line: Wisconsin is the latest state to pass legislation in recognition of the evolving need to update privacy laws to reflect the increased use of social media. Employers should evaluate and update all policies and practices relating to use of electronic communications and devices, internet usage, social media, and even hiring practices to ensure compliance with the act. As with any new law, stay tuned for the latest developments on how this act is enforced and litigated.

 

Bucking the Trend Against Employers – Wisconsin Repeals Law Giving Damages for Discrimination

Contributed by Terry Fox

On April 5, 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed into law Wisconsin Senate Bill 202; an act to eviscerate the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.  The law removed an employee’s ability to seek and collect either compensatory damages or punitive damages for employment discrimination under Wisconsin law. 

It appears that this legislation will effectively remove a risk to employers that employees will file a state law action, which is generally viewed as easier to prevail upon and less expensive to prosecute and defend.  Employers will now face federal lawsuits for Wisconsin employees.  This action by the Wisconsin legislature does not affect application of federal anti-discrimination laws to Wisconsin employees and employers.  It is unclear whether this repeal will impact pending state law cases. 

Governor Walker is facing a recall vote from the Wisconsin electorate.