Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wants to Abolish Labor Review Board

By | May 19, 2017

Wisconsin’s 106-year-old labor commission would vanish and Gov. Scott Walker’s administration would decide workplace disputes, including workers’ compensation disputes, in its place under a budget proposal up being considered by the the Legislature’s finance committee.

Walker’s plan to eliminate the Labor and Industry Review Commission could create uncertainty in applying Wisconsin labor law, raising questions about whether the commission’s precedent-setting decisions would evaporate and whether his pro-industry administration could fairly weigh cases.

The commission was formed in 1911 as the State Industrial Commission. The panel of three governor’s appointees considers appeals of administrative law judges’ rulings in fights over unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation and equal rights in the workplace.

The finance committee is a key testing ground for the budget. Its changes to Walker’s two-year, $76 billion proposed budget will solidify the spending plan for full Senate and Assembly votes. The full Legislature rarely makes changes to what the committee submits.

Walker’s budget would eliminate the commission and its 26.5 positions in January to save an estimated $5.1 million. Its work would be handled by the Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Administration’s Division of Hearings and Appeals — both Walker cabinet agencies.

The governor’s administration justified the move by noting the number of appeals has dropped nearly 60 percent between 2011 and 2016. DWD Secretary Ray Allen said eliminating the commission would speed up appeals.

Parties can appeal the commission’s decisions to circuit and state appellate courts. Those courts have given great deference to the commission, lending certainty to labor disputes. Parties in disputes could end up sending more labor cases to court to test whether the LIRC’s legal interpretations would stand after it’s gone, leading to more expensive disputes. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that about 1,000 additional cases could end up in court annually if the commission disappears. Only 88 commission cases went to court in 2016.

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