LANSING – The GOP war on unions and teachers continued in full force after a House Committee moved a bill that would make it a crime for a public sector union member to use a public Wi-Fi e-mail system to send or receive an e-mail or talk about forming a union in a public building.
The House Committee on Oversight, Reform, and Ethics moved House Bill 4052 by a vote 4-2 on Tuesday to the full House. This is just one of a rash of anti-union bills aimed at teachers that have moved in the House. The official line of the House Republicans is that the bill will “”would prohibit a public employee or collective bargaining organization from using publicly owned property, facilities, or services, including an electronic mail system, for (1) political activities, (2) political fundraising, (3) campaigning for office of a collective bargaining organization, (4) collective bargaining organizing activities, or (5) solicitation of employees for membership in a collective bargaining organization.”
This is an overreach of a recent Michigan Court of Appeals case involving the Howell Public Schools. The case was an attempt to embarrass and find dirt on the teachers and the union, but it backfired and the court of appeals found that the anti-union actions had overreached. In response, Republicans ignored the intent of the ruling and used it to further attack teachers and their union.
Back in 2007 the late anti-union activist Chet Zarko launched a fishing expedition by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the help of teabagger and former Howell School Board member Wendy Day seeking emails to embarrass the Howell teacher’s union. Zarko, who passed away in the summer of 2010, claimed the emails were sent on district computers during staff time, and they were used to lobby the public during contract negotiations. The district released some emails, but an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receiving any more of the 5,500 emails.
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in January of 2010 that the emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record, and they concluded that under the current FOIA statute the individual teacher’s personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. They also said this was unexamined ground in the law, and that this is an issue for the Legislature to address.
The rightwing, anti-union think tank “Mackinac Center for Public Policy” took on the case, but the conservative Michigan Supreme Court refused to take up the case despite repeated attempts by the Mackinac Center to get it there.
Enter anti-union freshman state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, and HB 4052. He was also the main sponsor of the anti-union and anti-Democratic Emergency Financial Managers (EFM) package of bills.
When the Court of Appeals ruled in 2010, it said that under the FOIA statute the individual plaintiffs’ personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. In other words, something as harmless as an invitation to a colleague’s retirement party that was once just placed in a teacher’s cubbyhole would now be a public record if was sent via email; even if it was sent on a private computer using a private email address as long as it was sent using wireless provided by the district.
This is about killing teacher’s unions because they tend to support Democrats; nothing else. In fact, Pscholka confirmed that in subscription only MIRS. Pscholka said he’s “seen improper uses of taxpayer-funded equipment and facilities in the past with dozens of politically charged e-mails coming from public employees during working hours.”
“One teacher in my district called my office in (sic) 11 a.m., saying she want (sic) to talk to a legislator about the budget cuts,” Pscholka said in MIRS. “She was very surprised when I answered the phone. When I inquired what her children were doing, she replied they were taking a quiz so she have (sic) the free time to talk.”
I have no idea if that story is true, but if she made the call on her free time or lunch hour using her own personal cell phone she would still be committing a crime under HB 4052. Or, if she sent him an e-mail on her own laptop computer on yahoo.com on her break time she would still be breaking the law and the e-mail could be public record.
The Legislature was supposed to address that problem, but instead they used the opportunity to further attack teachers and their union.