Union Station: Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission issues decision on collective bargaining for UW Health nurses

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bs-rp6MLFjqO8mt4iGn-WA5JPVpi4m3V7LkIeycnbynJzxZaPxnJMGE23ln-3ELE3MFJn9_8jLEEarmzbZ-oUdUje7-pFxZ0w57_zk1BdYxZ2GP_n_bDHxN8H1J_7qorQMjoA1IQ1MNK8UZhGA

Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission issues decision on collective bargaining for UW Health nurses 

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) ruled on Nov. 25 that the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority (UW Health) is not legally required to collectively bargain with UW Nurses United, a chapter of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin.  


SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and UW Health filed a joint petition on Sept. 20, 2022, asking the commission for a declaratory ruling on whether Wisconsin Statutes chapter 111, subchapter 1—called the Wisconsin Employment Peace Act—applied to UW Health and its employees.

The Peace Act says, “Employees shall have the right of self-organization and the right to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in lawful, concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.” 

According to the Wisconsin Examiner’s Erik Gunn, SEIU lawyers “[contended] that UW Health is covered by the Peace Act and as such its employees have full collective bargaining rights,” while UW Health attorneys argued the Peace Act no longer applied to UW Health after former Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 into law. Act 10 limited collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.

The joint petition was part of an agreement between the parties to call off a planned nurses’ strike. To read more about the agreement in an earlier edition of Union Station, click here

WERC ruling 

WERC issued its decision on Nov. 25, finding that the Peace Act does not apply to UW Health employees. The commission’s decision said:

“The parties disagree as to whether statutory history is always to be considered when seeking the ‘plain meaning’ of a statute. SEIU asserts that it is only appropriate to look at statutory history if it confirms the ‘plain meaning’ derived from an analysis of the statutory language itself. UWHCA argues that statutory history is always to be considered. The Commission concludes that UWHCA is correct. …

“While the current version of Wis. Stat. § 111.02(7)1 is certainly susceptible to the interpretation given it by SEIU, the statutory history summarized in Findings of Fact 3 – 6 provides clear determinative evidence of the Wisconsin Legislature’s intent. Act 10’s specific deletion of all statutory references related to the UWHCA as a Peace Act ‘employer’ clearly establishes that the UWHCA is not an ‘employer’ within the plain meaning of Wis. Stat. §111.02(7). Contrary to the argument of SEIU, there are no plausible alternative explanations for the legislative deletions reflected in Act 10. 

“Given the foregoing, the Commission declares that the Wisconsin Employment Peace Act, Wis. Stat. ch. 111, subch. 1 (WEPA) does not apply to the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority and its employees and their chosen representatives, if any.”

The Cap Times’ Jessie Opoien reported that it “remains unresolved … whether UW Health can voluntarily recognize the union.”

What comes next

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jessica Van Egeren, “Since a ruling by the commission is not the same as a ruling by the courts, neither side ever viewed a decision by WERC as the final answer.” Representatives for both parties have said that they plan to appeal the commission’s decision.

UW Health says it will appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Press secretary Emily Kumlien said, “WERC’s decision is an important first step toward obtaining definitive answers from the Wisconsin legal system on both the question WERC addressed and whether UW Health could voluntarily recognize a union and bargain collectively. … We believe that an expedited decision on these important legal issues will best allow us to move forward.” 

UW Health nurses Mary Jorgensen, Colin Gillis, and Sarah Langland said, “We will be appealing WERC’s decision through the courts and petitioning for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). … This is the first round in a multi-step process for nurses achieving collective bargaining rights, either through the courts, the NLRB, or through voluntary recognition by UW Health.” 

Jorgensen, Gillis and Langland also said, “Hundreds of us have already signed up to become union members and we are meeting directly with the administration to raise critical issues and create real solutions. … The opinion by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) does not impact our union membership or the Meet and Discuss process at UW Health.”

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 150 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

No public-sector union bills saw activity this week.

Thank you for reading! Let us know what you think! Reply to this email with any feedback or recommendations.