RACINE, Wis. – Former Racine Unified school district board member Brian Deyhas had his fair share of run-ins with the district’s teachers union.
He proposed Act 10-style cuts when he served on the board between 2005 and 2008. More recently, he pressed school officials to launch an investigation into the union’s allegedly illegal campaigning on school property.
But it was the outspoken education reformer’s comments about the apparent union connection to a "Student Bill of Rights" that prompted a Wisconsin Education Association Council attorney to threaten a defamation lawsuit to shut him up.
It didn’t work.
In an interview with EAGnews.org, Dey said he was somewhat surprised by the threatening letter he received from the WEAC earlier this month, but the experience has only strengthened his resolve to speak out about union abuses and the benefits of Act 10 in Wisconsin’s public schools.
"Initially I laughed because it’s similar to threats (from the union) in districts across the state against those who come out … for Act 10 and Scott Walker," Dey said. "I’m not intimidated, nor am I going to be quiet about it.
"I don’t agree with collective bargaining for professionals, I just don’t."
Collective bargaining for teachers is somehow at the center of a "Student Bill of Rights" allegedly drafted by students in Milwaukee and Racine, most of whom have been inducted into the radical group Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES).
YES is led by left-wing Horlick High School teacher Al Levie, who is prone to dragging his students with him to protest and heckle lawmakers he doesn’t agree with. YES and Levie are also tied to Voces de la Frontera, an organization that advocates for extremely liberal immigration policies and collective bargaining privileges.
Teachers involved with YES are WEAC members, and a central issue of the "Student Bill of Rights" conveniently mirrors the union’s top priority – collective bargaining. The fact that students introduced the document after marching from Big Labor headquarters in Racine has convinced Dey that WEAC likely is involved with the "student effort." He has spoken up about the issue on blogs and online news forums.
Now, WEAC’s high-dollar attorney wants Dey to shut his mouth about the situation, and to stop talking about union abuses he has highlighted for taxpayers in the past.
Cease and desist
Here are some excerpts from WEAC’s cease and desist letter, sent to Dey by union attorney Jina Jonen:
"I have received information that you have made defamatory and other false statements about the Racine Education Association (REA), Mr. Jack Bernfeld (REA Executive Director) and Mr. Pete Knotek (REA President) to the public, and in particular, on your blog and in the press.
"To give a few examples, contrary to your statements, the REA and/or its representatives:
- Did not draft or participate in drafting the student bill of rights;
- Did not organize any "sick out" last year when Governor Walker and his legislature stripped teachers of their right to have a voice in making educational decisions that drastically impact students and our schools;
- Did not advocate for or participate in any illegal actions regarding political campaigns, Act 10 or any other matters."
Jonen then threatened Dey with a lawsuit if he doesn’t keep quiet.
"This letter is to notify you to cease and desist from making defamatory and other untrue statements regarding the Racine Education Association, the Racine Education Assistants Association and/or any of the officers, staff and members, including but not limited to, Mr. Bernfeld and Mr. Knotek.
"If you do not immediately cease and desist these actions, the REA may take appropriate legal action against you and seek all applicable damages, including attorney fees and costs."
Dey believes the union has put a target on his back because he "doesn’t necessarily operate within the bounds of what the union and board says."
"I have a reputation that I cannot be silenced easily," he said.
Not surprisingly, Dey returned the union letter with one of his own, taking the union to task for its bullying behavior and countering the assertion that WEAC had no involvement in the "Student Bill of Rights."
" … I categorically stand by any statements made (in regard to Bernfeld and Knotek) and ask that you cease and desist the harassing letters.
" … I have every right to come to the conclusion that REA members, along with members of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, were involved in the draft as there were union members, which has been publicly reported elsewhere, involved as ‘advisors.’ I also draw that conclusion because the ‘Student Bill of Rights’ was presented and voted on for approval by the REA and MTEA Executive Committees prior to being presented to the respective school boards.
"Further, the Racine march, held 4/16/2012, started at the Racine Labor Center and was attended by a number of teachers (union members). … (T)he language ‘students have the right to have teachers and administrators who have the right to collectively bargain …’ would also draw the same conclusions by reasonable people."
Dey referred WEAC attorney Jonen and union officials to news reports on the union’s involvement in staging a "sick out" to protest Act 10 reforms. He also pointed to a Caledonia Patch article in which REA Executive Director Jack Bernfeld"admitted that the union distributed campaign material the day prior to the spring primary during working hours on school property."
He closed his letter to WEAC with a strongly worded warning.
"I can certainly understand that the REA or WEAC would not want these actions to be made public to further damage their already tarnished reputation throughout the state of Wisconsin, but you have no justification to send me threatening letters and any further action on your part could be construed as harassment.
"I have publicly stood by our governor’s and legislature’s actions as being the best reform to education we could have asked for, and I am truly disappointed by the lack of professionalism that the REA and WEAC have demonstrated. As a reformer, I will not back down from the facts, and will continue through fact to shine light on the thuggish tactics employed by the unions.
"This letter is to notify you to cease and desist any further harassment of myself, my children or my family or I will seek appropriate legal action against the REA, WEAC, its staff or members and seek all applicable damages, including attorney fees and costs, up to and including criminal charges where applicable."