Judge Gives Investigative Group OK to Make Michigan Union Info Public
A federal judge ruled an investigative organization has the right to release to the public documents it obtained from the Michigan chapter of one of the nation’s largest teachers unions.
The American Federation of Teachers–Michigan (AFT) sued Project Veritas in September 2017, alleging it used an undercover operative to dig up dirt on the organization and that the information obtained amounted to “trade secrets.” In September, “A Wayne County judge issued a temporary restraining order, barring the organization from using or publishing any information it obtained from the union,” USA Today reported in December 2017.
Rights in Conflict
U.S. District Judge Linda Parker denied AFT–Michigan’s request for an injunction, ruling on December 27, 2017, “In light of the potential First Amendment issues, a preliminary injunction most certainly will infringe upon Defendants’ First Amendment right.”
Parker rejected AFT–Michigan’s claim the information must remain secret because the Project Veritas operative misrepresented herself as an intern and was granted access to “confidential and proprietary information” regarding the organization’s charter school strategy, which otherwise would have been kept in “offices which are closed to the public, behind locked doors and gates.,” as AFT-Michigan’s attorney Mark Cousens put it.
Parker ruled there was no evidence Project Veritas violated state eavesdropping law, nor that publication of documents obtained during the investigation could harm the union. “Plaintiff’s commercial interests are not greater than the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment,” the judge wrote in her decision.
Project Veritas Founder James O’Keefe commented on the judge’s ruling through a statement published on ProjectVeritas.com after the ruling, writing, “The Michigan AFT made a baseless attempt to bar our constitutional rights and silence our message, but the First Amendment prevailed.”
‘They’re Not Transparent’
Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says most teachers unions use the same set of tactics.
“The overarching view is that they’re not transparent,” Sand said. “The California Teachers Association has a state council which is their governing body. Good luck trying to find out who’s running for [union offices] or how or when you can vote for it. They get the word out to the people they want to vote, but it’s not like ‘Tuesday is Election Day.’
“Their body is all on the left, and that’s the heart of the union, and they vote where all the money goes,” said Sand. “I’m going to guess that most unions do things the same way—they’re not transparent. Anything that can put some light on their method of operations is a good thing.”
Something to Hide?
Kyle Olson, founder of Education Action Group and EAGnews.com, a news service dedicated to education, says AFT’s effort for an injunction against release of the information acquired by Project Veritas shows the union is intent on keeping the public in the dark about its activities.
“The AFT filed suit against Project Veritas because it didn’t want documents proving that the union only cares about the interests of adults to be aired for public consumption,” Olson said. “The only ‘trade secrets’ the union would be attempting to protect are the latest ways they can fleece taxpayers into giving higher pay and better benefits with no promise of improved student performance in return.”
Battling Charter Competition
Research released in January 2018 indicates Detroit charter schools outperform Detroit district schools. Michigan unions and education bureaucrats have been fighting charter schools for years, and the charter school threat was behind the lawsuit, Olson says.
“The intern allegedly obtained documents related to the union’s efforts to thwart charter schools,” said Olson. “The union fights parental choice every chance it gets, and the documents likely show it will use any means necessary to kill school choice. The union didn’t want the documents to prove what many suspect: It’s out for the interests of the dues payers, not the children.”
‘They Want Total Control’
Tommy Schultz, national communications director for the American Federation of Children, says teachers unions fundraise to support political causes that advance their interests.
“The teachers unions amassed and spent more than a hundred million dollars last year alone that they shuffle around for their political goals,” said Schultz. “They want closed-door negotiations for their taxpayer-funded contracts that siphon money away from students and the classroom. They want total control over the system and block common-sense reforms at every turn.”
The Michigan Education Association transferred nearly $140,000 to a group called Progress Michigan between 2014 and 2017. Progress Michigan argues against education choice, and its board includes two members of Service Employees International Union and a regional director of the United Auto Workers. Schultz says school choice is against the unions’ interests.
“When families have school choice, they are empowered to have the freedom to choose what’s best for their child, not a teachers union boss,” Schultz said. “For the teachers unions, it’s all about power. Plain and simple.”
Jenni White (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.