Smooth Transition to Privatized Service in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS — While the first day of school often results in missed and late buses throughout school districts in Michigan and elsewhere, Dean Transportation got high marks for its first day of operation in the Grand Rapids Public Schools system. According to a report in The Grand Rapids Press, school officials reported there were "just 20 transportation-related calls to the district’s hotline, far fewer than in recent years."

The Grand Rapids community has been increasingly debating the use of competitive contracting lately as the school system works to reduce deficits. It is estimated that the contract will save the district over $18 million during the 5-year life of the agreement.

In a move unrelated to the quality of services provided by Dean Transportation, the Michigan Education Association filed an unfair labor practice against the company on Oct. 14. The MEA claims that it has a right to represent former district employees now working for Dean. The basis for the claim is the "successor doctrine" which allows a union to continue representing employees after a change in employers. The doctrine dates back to a legal precedent from 1972.

Thomas Washburne, Director of the Mackinac Center’s Labor and Education Project, argues that the successor doctrine may not apply in this instance. "The issue in Grand Rapids is that the former employer is a public school district, while the new employer is a private company. As such, this is not a case where employees have previously voted to be represented by a private sector union," he said.