MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker's administration took steps Monday to adjust state workers' paychecks to reflect a new collective bargaining law, while the state Justice Department asked a court to agree the law was in effect and stop cases related to blocking its implementation.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin school board association advised districts to hold off on any more contract talks given the ongoing uncertainty over whether the law is in effect. Many school districts, counties and municipalities had been rushing to reach deals before the law that takes away nearly all public employees' bargaining rights kicked in.
Republican lawmakers pushed through passage of the law earlier this month despite massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state Capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators. Opponents immediately filed a series of lawsuits, and a hearing on one was scheduled Tuesday. The judge in that case had issued a restraining order barring Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, typically the last step before it takes effect.
But at the request of a Republican Senate leader, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau posted the law on the Legislature's website Friday. Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration and the Justice Department led by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the posting put the law into effect Saturday and work to implement it would begin immediately.
Along with removing most of public employees' collective bargaining rights, the new law requires them to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, which amounts to an 8 percent pay cut.
Walker's top aide Mike Huebsch said the administration was preparing a computer program to take out the new deductions and stop the deduction of union dues on paychecks state workers will receive April 21. The Department of Administration would stop that work if a court determined the law didn't take effect Saturday, Huebsch said.
Also Monday, the state Department of Justice asked permission to withdraw its appeal of the restraining order barring La Follette from publishing the law. It said the order is now moot since the law was enacted without the secretary of state's involvement.
But La Follette, the head of the office that posted the law, the Madison city attorney and others maintained the law is not in effect until the secretary of state acts.
Given the difference of opinions, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards told districts that are still negotiating with teachers not to take any official action until the courts resolve the dispute.
"Because we have a difference of opinion within the state administration, the safest place to be is to not enter an agreement at the present time," said Bob Butler, an attorney for the school boards association. "I'm very hesitant to tell someone to go out and do something a portion of the state is telling you not to do."
Any deals reached since Saturday could later be challenged if that turns out to have been the effective date of the law, he said.
Butler said he thought as many as 150 of the state's 424 school districts either extended their current contracts or reached new deals before Saturday. About 200 took no action, and another 75 or so were still considering what to do, including some that were close to a deal before Friday's unexpected action, he said.
At least two districts — Waunakee and Belleville — signed agreements last week, he said.
At least one school district canceled a Monday night meeting scheduled to talk about a new teacher contract, saying it didn't want to act with uncertainty reigning about the state of the law.
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