In a transparent attempt to punish teachers for organizing union efforts, Michigan Republicans are pushing a bill through the legislature that would prohibit public employees from sending political messages through their work emails. The bill is an attempt to stifle any union-related communication between teachers and other public employees, imposing ridiculously harsh penalties for teachers who send “political” messages:
Michigan educators could face a year in prison for conducting union or political business over public school e-mail servers under a bill advancing in Lansing.
State House Bill 4052 was reported out of committee last week, and would prohibit a public employee from using public e-mail for political campaigning, union activities, union recruitment, and fundraising.
Violators could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, which would carry a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in prison or both in the bill’s amended version. Organizations found guilty would face up to a $10,000 fine.[...]
The bill is an example of ongoing “classic scapegoating” in Lansing against teachers, and is being used to appeal to the Republican-led Legislature’s base, said Doug Norton, former Howell Education Association president.
“I think that they hate the fact that teachers are able to join a union and collectively bargain. I think they have targeted teachers in their organization,” Norton said.
The Michigan Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, says the bill is political retribution after a conservative activist lost a legal battle over the use of school districts’ email service for union lobbying efforts. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that teachers’ emails were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which would’ve made all personal communications subject to public scrutiny.
Instead of abiding by the court’s decision, Michigan Republicans are determined to circumvent the law and crack down on unions by completely banning “political” communication by public employees. The Livingston Daily notes that the bill actually cannot be enforced without modifying the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
These so-called small government conservatives seem entirely comfortable with the prospect of a Big Brother police state that would monitor all communications by all public employees. Disturbingly, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Al Pscholka (R) said the law would depend on co-workers reporting violations by their colleagues, fostering an atmosphere of fear and suspicion and inviting public accusations based on personal vendettas.
The Michigan Education Association warns that this GOP assault is about more than public workers and their unions — if passed, it would weaken constitutional protections on every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.