By Patrick J. Wright[lxi]
In 2007, the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest school employees union, scored partial victories in civil and administrative lawsuits involving privatization of school bus services in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. The union’s success in the civil lawsuit did not directly affect the school district, however, and depended on facts unique to the case. In addition, the administrative decision may well be overturned.
The lawsuits occurred in the context of a long-term legal strategy by the MEA, a union that is explicitly “committed to defeating privatization.” Following passage of Michigan’s Public Act 112 of 1994, the union filed a legal challenge to the act’s prohibition on the discussion of noninstructional services privatization during the collective bargaining process.[lxii] In 1996, the Michigan Supreme Court denied the MEA’s claim that the provision was unconstitutional. The court further stated that even if a school district agreed during collective bargaining never to privatize noninstructional services, the promise would be unenforceable, since privatization is an illegal subject of bargaining.
This broader legal attack having failed, the MEA has brought legal challenges against privatization on a case-by-case basis. The union has used three basic claims: a tort action in state court against the contractor providing the service; a federal claim of unfair labor practices against the contractor for refusing to recognize the MEA as the collective bargaining agent for the private employees providing the service; and a state unfair labor practice claim or contract grievance against a school district alleging repudiation of a collective bargaining agreement.
The MEA used all three claims in its challenge to school bus privatization in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. They are discussed in detail below.
[lxi] Appendix 1 was written by Patrick J. Wright, a senior legal analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a former Michigan Supreme Court commissioner and Michigan assistant attorney general.
[lxii] MCL § 423.215(3); MCL § 423.215(3)(f). See the discussion of this law under “School Districts’ Administrative Powers: Public Act 112 of 1994.”