Mackinac Center Files Friend of the Court Brief in Grand Rapids Case Involving Privatization of School Bus Services and Public-Sector Unions

Adverse ruling in federal court would impair Michigan workers’ right to choose representation when leaving public sector

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Patrick J. Wright
Senior Legal Analyst

MIDLAND — Yesterday evening, the Midland-based Mackinac Center filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in support of Dean Transportation, a Lansing-based company providing school bus services for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Dean, which hired many of the school district’s former transportation employees when it won a five-year contract with the district in 2005, has refused to accede to an unusual demand by the employees’ former public-sector union to continue to represent them. Dean has instead recognized the current private-sector union negotiating for all Dean employees as the new workers’ collective bargaining agent.

The dispute landed in federal appellate court following a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that Dean must bargain with the Grand Rapids Educational Support Personnel Association, the public-sector union that previously represented the district’s transportation workers, without a vote of the Dean employees concerned. The NLRB based its ruling on a doctrine meant to prevent unions from being circumvented by corporate shell games.

But Mackinac Center Senior Legal Analyst Patrick J. Wright argues in the brief that the NLRB ruling fails to account for the difference between public- and private-sector unions in Michigan. As Wright observed today, “Michigan’s public-sector unions cannot strike — a powerful, but risky tactic available to private-sector unions. This power to strike would make a public-sector union entering the private sector the same union in name only. In general, any former Michigan public-sector employees should be allowed to vote on whether they wish to have their previous public-sector union continue to represent them in the private sector.”

Wright added, “The NLRB’s ruling would hinder school boards’ ability to privatize noninstructional services, since fewer private companies would bid on school district contracts out of a concern that public-sector unions new to their business and inexperienced in private-sector bargaining might be forced on them and their employees. As a result, school boards would find it harder to save money for the classroom.”

Due to a District of Columbia circuit rule, all friend of the court arguments in support of Dean Transportation were filed in a joint brief. Five organizations were part of the brief: The Mackinac Center, the Kent Intermediate School District, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the National School Transportation Association and the National School Boards Association. The NSBA expressed no opinion on the legal argument concerning the private-sector union’s right to strike.