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The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (“WILL”) and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation have amended their complaint in their Act 10 lawsuit against the Kenosha Unified School District and the Kenosha Education Association (“KEA”) to add a new claim based upon a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The new claim names four individual members of the Kenosha School Board as defendants – Board Members Jo Ann Taube, Rebecca Stevens, Carl Bryan and Kyle Flood. The claim stems from a motion made by Taube at a School Board meeting on October 22, 2013. The amended complaint also adds SEIU Local 168 and AFSCME Local 2383 as defendants because the School District negotiated with those unions at the same time it negotiated with the KEA.
The court has set a schedule in the case that could lead to a decision as early as May or June. According to WILL President Rick Esenberg, “under the new schedule, summary judgment motions are likely going to be filed in April, 2014 and decided by the Court in May or June. This means that Kenosha School District employees will find out if the contract is valid right around the end of this school year.”
The complaint charges the Kenosha School District with entering into an unlawful agreement and with making payments under the contract that violate Wisconsin law. The complaint also charges that deductions from employee salaries for so-called “fair share” payments are illegal. Should the plaintiff be successful, the School District may be forced to recover recent bonus payments from employees and to compensate affected employees for unlawful dues deductions.
Under the amended complaint, WILL has added an open meetings violation against the individual Board members. Under the Open Meetings Act, “every public notice of a meeting of a governmental body shall set forth the . . . subject matter of the meeting … in such form as is reasonably likely to apprise members of the public and the news media thereof.” The public agenda for the Board’s October 22, 2013 meeting did not include any notice that the Board would be discussing collective bargaining with any unions. Nevertheless, Taube introduced a motion at the meeting to initiate collective bargaining with the KEA and two other unions, SEIU Local 168 and AFSCME Local 2383. The motion passed 4-3, with Board members Taube, Stevens, Bryan and Flood voting in favor.
Given the high-profile changes to the public collective bargaining laws brought about by Act 10, a decision by the Kenosha School Board to enter into contract negotiations with the unions would have been of particular interest to the public. Yet, the public had no opportunity to be present for the motion and debate because they were unaware that it would be occurring. The public also had no opportunity to contact their representatives and express opposition to or support for the proposal before it was voted on.
After Taube’s successful motion, the School District engaged in collective bargaining and signed a new contract with the KEA and other unions. The original complaint sought to void that contract based upon violations of Act 10 and antitrust laws. The newest amended complaint adds a claim to void the contract based upon this violation of the Open Meetings Act and seeks a monetary forfeiture against Taube, Stevens, Bryan and Flood.