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Judge rules taxpayers, Mackinac Center, do not have standing in lawsuit over privatization

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Chicago 2016 photos
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Teacher's unions agreed to contribute to their health care premiums for the first time in the contract.

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

Ron Koehler is assistant superintendent at the Kent Intermediate School District, which helped negotiate the contract that 10 Kent County school district signed on to.

“The Mackinac Center claimed that we had not adequately explored outsourcing of services and really nothing could be further from the truth.”

Koehler says many of the districts that entered the agreement already have privatized some services. They were not planning to privatize any this year. Koehler says that bargaining chip allowed them to get concessions from the unions worth millions of dollars. However, he says they’ll probably avoid that language to prevent litigation in the future.

Director of the Mackinac Center’s Legal Foundation Patrick Wright admits theirs is a technical defense.

“It is not that these two entities didn’t violate the law. The holding was that our parties, the taxpayers, were not the right persons to bring the lawsuit.”

Wright says they haven’t decided whether they will appeal or push lawmakers to close what they see as a shortcoming in state law.

“If you have a district and a union that are willing to say ‘well we’re going to negotiate over a prohibited subject’ now who’s going to enforce it? The two entities who broke the law?”

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Enterprise Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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