Jan 29, 2010

Anti-union activist says he will appeal union-busting case to the Michigan Supreme Court

Anti-union activist Chet Zarko is appealing the Howell Public School E-mail case to the Michigan Supreme Court, according to radio station WHMI and his response to me.

We're all entitled to due process and the process on this issue hasn't ended, so nothing remains to be seen,” he wrote on this blog on Jan. 28. “I'm (sic) you know the answer to whether I'll appeal.”

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 27 on the case involving a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for some 5,500 emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between the leaders of the Howell Education Association (HEA) and their union members were not public record and therefore subject to public disclosure.

WHMI is reporting he is being represented by the National Right to Work Foundation, a union-busting “non-profit” with the mission of “providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by abuses of compulsory unionism.” The mission of the group in this case, like Zarko’s original mission, is to bust or at least embarrass the union.

Back in the spring of 2007, Zarko in cahoots with anti-union Howell school board member Wendy Day, filed a FOIA in a fishing expedition request for the emails of union leaders on their HPS account. Zarko alleges HEA leaders have "conducted a large amount of union business on public time, including trying to retain MEA (Michigan Education Association) affiliated MESSA health-insurance, and using parent-teacher conferences to recruit parents (to) their side of a collective-bargaining debate.” Even though that was proven not to be the case, Zarko persisted in an effort just to find something embarrassing.

In October of 2008 Livingston County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Latreille determined that the e-mails written by union leaders on school computers are public record, and subject to disclosure. The HEA appealed to stop the disclosure because both the district and the union agreed that they had a “recognized right” to use the email system.

That case was appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and oral briefs were taken by a three-judge panel at a hearing on Jan. 5. The court issues its ruling in favor of the union on Jan. 27, saying just because the 5,500 emails were captured by the school’s servers does not mean they are public record. The ruling concluded “We believe this question is one that must be resolved by the Legislature, and we call upon the Legislature to address it, we conclude 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,”

This is part of Republican’s efforts to bust unions and make Michigan a “Right to Work for Less” state. Shortly after the ruling, the rightwing think tank Mackinac Center’s Legal Foundation sent out a press release saying this ruling “undermines” FOIA, but their only interest, like Zarko’s, is union busting. The rightwing think tank even filed a amicus curiae brief in the case.

During the Court of Appeals hearing on Jan. 5, HPS lawyers argued the case and Zarko sat in the back of the court room. Plus, the case is HEA Vs. “Howell Board of Education” and HPS. Zarko is listed as just a “Intervenor/Counter Plaintiff.” It’s unclear what role HPS will have in the case if it goes to the Michigan Supreme Court. I sure hope no tax dollars go to fund Zarko’s union-busting witch hunt.

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