Michigan groups ask court to force schools to release teacher e-mails that may show illegal union strike plans

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Press Association (MPA) filed documents last week asking the state’s Supreme Court to reconsider a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) denial appeal the Court didn’t take up last December – when the court leaned more left. Now, though, the court leans right, so the Mackinac Center is looking for e-mails between teachers and their union bosses discussing a potential “job action,” which may include a strike – it is illegal for teachers to strike in Michigan. According to the Mackinac Center, many of those emails were sent, received or viewed on school computers in districts throughout the state.

Mackinac Center spokesman Michael Jahr told The Daily Caller the first major issue at play in this lawsuit is that school districts and the Michigan Education Association (MEA) are withholding emails that may show teachers and union bosses were planning an illegal strike.

“Our FOIA was to see if there were school resources and school time being used to discuss this illegal strike,” Jahr said in a phone interview. None of the more than 200 Michigan school districts they requested emails and documents from provided them.

The second major issue, he said, is that the reason a state appeals court considered the emails outside the bounds of FOIA is because they’re “personal” communications. Jahr said any precedent that sets could be disastrous, as it would counter FOIA’s prime directive: allowing the public to find out when government officials and taxpayer resources are being used for unintended or corrupt purposes.

“The people who would be covering something up would be the ones who would be deciding whether it was personal or not,” Jahr said. “That’s what’s so troubling about this case – you’ve got a public official who is writing inappropriate things to a minor, that could be deemed a personal behavior. It’s extremely troubling if a public official is doing something like that and if nobody can access that because they claim, ‘hey, my criminal activity is personal.’”

Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters said the “job action” isn’t a strike. “It authorizes MEA to engage in significant activities – up to and including a work stoppage – that will increase the pressure on our legislators,” Salters said in a letter to union members in early March.

But, calling it a “job action” and not a strike “just doesn’t cut it,” according to Patrick Wright, the director of the Mackinac Center’s Legal Foundation. “Job actions in Michigan are defined as strikes,” Wright told TheDC. “There is a definition in Michigan public bargaining law that sickouts, job actions, any of that stuff, whatever euphemism you want to use for a strike, it’s a strike and it’s illegal.”

It’s not punishable by jail time, but it could lead to some hefty fines for local organizers and teachers. It can lead to a $5,000 fine for local unions, and varying dollar amounts for teachers and organizers – that could end in teachers or union bosses being discharged.

A spokesman for the MEA did return TheDC’s request for comment.

UPDATE 4:10 P.M.: The Mackinac Center is reporting receiving bomb threats and death threats via voicemail for pursuing the teacher e-mail communications on the illegal strike.

“Scotty Walker is dead,” one woman said, according to Mackinac. “So are you. We know where you live.”

The conservative think tank said the woman then read its address and said, “We are coming up to destroy you.”

Another caller reportedly said to them, “You are on Main Street. You are the first place to be bombed.”

A third caller said, “We are going to destroy everybody. We are going to destroy all of you. All of you die. Midland, Michigan. Get ready. We are going to destroy all of you.”

Tags : education freedom of information act labor michigan unions
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