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Wisconsin Spotlight | Jan. 29, 2021

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is using your tax dollars to pay teachers to work for their unions. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty is set to sue to stop the misspent taxpayer dollars. 

WILL filed a notice of claim on Thursday warning the school district that its “union leave policy” amounts to compelled speech because it forces taxpayers to subsidize labor union activities. That includes working on elections and lobbying. The Milwaukee-based, public-interest law firm is representing former Milwaukee County supervisor Daniel Sebring, as a district resident and taxpayer.  

“(W)e ask that you suspend this unconstitutional practice of union leave,” the notice states  If MPS doesn’t comply, the matter would head to court.  

According to the district’s employee handbook: “Each designated collective bargaining unit may request that its representatives be released with pay to engage in union-related activities for a maximum of ten days per fiscal year.” A union may request additional taxpayer-funded leave, for up to a year, if the district approves. 

WILL asserts that the policy violates the constitution’s requirement that all spending be for a public purpose and not for the benefit of a private entity, such as a labor union. 

“The Constitution guarantees everyone the right to speak, and also the right not to speak. This policy forces Milwaukee taxpayers to pay for the speech and political activities of labor unions by paying teachers and other employees full wages and benefits to work for unions,” said Dan Lennington. “Taxpayer money should be spent on educating students, not helping labor unions.”

As WILL notes, under the MPS union leave policy, district employees are not restricted from engaging in a variety of political activities including advancing the direct interests of the public employee unions, as well as electoral activity, lobbying to influence public policy, and making political donations. Such activities may be in the best interest of teachers, but they’re not always in the best interest of students and education. 

In its letter to MPS, the law firm notes the district spent “thousands of dollars” paying employees “for hundreds of hours working on behalf of labor unions for the labor unions’ private purposes” during the past three school years. 

Citing the landmark Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, WILL notes the high court has agreed with Thomas Jefferson, that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhor(s) is sinful and tyrannical.” 

In short, sending taxpayer money to unions for political purposes is a violation of the First Amendment. 

“Mr. Sebring is being forced to subsidize the speech of a private organization with which he disagrees,” the notice asserts. 

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