The Brief: Law School News and Events

Union Attorney Compares Labor Battle in Wisconsin to Civil Rights Movement
Thousands of opponents of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill gather for protests at the State Capitol in Madison.  
Thousands of opponents of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill gather for protests at the State Capitol in Madison.

After Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that stripped collective bargaining rights from public employees into law in March, tens of thousands of pro-labor protestors descended on the capital in Madison to contest the measure.

Among the crowd was Richard Kirschner L'57, AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee attorney, who returned to Penn Law School in April for a nationally recognized teach-in in response to the events in Wisconsin.

"It was extremely impressive," recalled Kirschner, founding partner of Kirschner and Gartrell PC. "We felt this was a seminal movement, not unlike the civil rights movement many years ago and the movement opposing the Vietnam War. It was so encouraging to see all of these people, and it wasn't just public employees… virtually every single union was there."

Fifty tractors circled the capital in a colorful protest of Walker's decision but the rally remained peaceful and no arrests were made, Kirschner told students at the teach-in sponsored by the American Constitution Society and Penn Law's Toll Public Interest Center. Protesters rejoiced when the 14 Democratic senators, who fled Wisconsin in an attempt to block the legislation, made their first public appearance at the rally since ending their selfimposed exile.

Kirschner called Gov. Walker's efforts "atrocious," adding that the anti-union movement has picked up momentum across the U.S.

"[Legislators] are blaming the labor movement for all the financial ills they're allegedly suffering, but what they don't talk about are the tax breaks to the corporations of Wisconsin," he said. "And it's not unique to Wisconsin. That's going on across While Gov. Walker contends that ending collective bargaining gives local governments flexibility to deal with cuts in state aid, Kirschner countered that the bill is simply an attempt to "castrate the union's financial abilities."

In June, the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated the law that changes the terms of collective bargaining in Wisconsin.