MPS Amends Union-Leave Policy After WILL Lawsuit

Amended policy now explicitly requires activities to be politically and ideologically view-point neutral

The News: The Milwaukee Public School Board voted to amend a union leave policy, subject of a lawsuit from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), to make clear that employees may only use such time for activities that are politically and ideologically “view-point neutral.” WILL sued the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in July, on behalf of a Milwaukee taxpayer, alleging the previous wording of the policy amounted to a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech. As a result of this amendment, WILL recently stipulated to a dismissal of the case.

The Quotes: WILL Deputy Counsel, Lucas Vebber, said, “We are pleased that the MPS Board took efforts to clarify this policy. Taxpayers now have a better understanding of how these public resources are being used and what oversight is in place.”

WILL client, Dan Sebring, said, “I am pleased that this policy has been clarified. When I left public office and people asked me why, I told them that I’ve found that I can be more effective as an activist than a public official – and this is case in point!”

Background: Milwaukee Public Schools’ original union leave policy permitted MPS employees to use at least ten days per fiscal year for paid union leave. Any MPS employee using union leave was allowed to engage exclusively in “union-related activities.” The original policy did not define that term.

The United States Supreme Court affirmed in Janus v. AFSCME that “[c]ompelling a person to subsidize the speech of other private speakers raises similar First Amendment concerns.” And the Wisconsin Constitution recognizes that the freedom of speech “includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all.” WILL’s lawsuit argued the original MPS union leave policy amounted to taxpayers subsidizing the speech and activities of labor unions – a form of unconstitutional compelled speech.

WILL filed a Notice of Claim in January warning MPS that the union leave policy would result in a lawsuit. A lawsuit was then filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on July 8, 2021.

On December 16, 2021 the Milwaukee Public School Board amended the policy to make clear that “Permissible union-related activities for which release time may be offered only include activities that are politically and ideologically ‘view point neutral.’” Further, such activities “must also relate to the functions of the District.” The policy also adds some clarity to how such leave is to be requested.

As a result of the adoption of this policy, WILL stipulated to a dismissal of the case.

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