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U.S. Supreme Court

Madison Sch. Dist. v. Wisconsin Empl. Rel. Comm'n, 429 U.S. 167 (1976)

City of Madison Joint School District No. 8 v.

Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission

No. 75-946

Argued October 12, 1976

Decided December 8, 1976

429 U.S. 167


During the course of a regularly scheduled, open meeting of appellant Board of Education, public discussion turned to currently pending labor negotiations between the board and the teachers' union. One speaker was a nonunion teacher who, over union objection, addressed one topic of the pending negotiations, namely, the union's demand for a "fair share" clause, which would require all teachers (whether union members or not) to pay union dues. He read a petition signed by the teachers in the district, calling for postponement of the issue until it could be given closer examination by an impartial committee. Subsequently, after a collective bargaining agreement had been signed containing all the union's demands except the "fair share" clause, the union filed a complaint with the appellee Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC), claiming that the board had committed a prohibited labor practice in violation of Wisconsin law by permitting the nonunion teacher to speak at its public meeting because that constituted negotiations by the board with a member of the bargaining unit other than the exclusive collective bargaining representative. The WERC found the board guilty of the prohibited labor practice and ordered that it immediately cease and desist from permitting any employees but union officials to appear and speak at board meetings on matters subject to collective bargaining. The WERC was upheld on appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluding that the nonunion teacher's statement before the board constituted "negotiation" with the board, and holding that the abridgment of speech by the WERC was justified in order "to avoid the dangers attendant upon relative chaos in labor-management relations."


1. The circumstances do not present such danger to labor-management relations as to justify curtailing speech in the manner ordered by the WERC. Pp. 429 U. S. 173-176.

(a) Where it does not appear that the nonunion teacher sought to bargain or offered to enter into any bargain with the board or that he was authorized by any other teachers to enter into any agreement on their behalf, there is no basis for concluding that his terse statement during the public meeting constituted negotiation with the board. Although his views were not consistent with those of the union, communicating

Page 429 U. S. 168

such views to the employer could not change the fact that the union alone was authorized to negotiate and enter into a contract with the board. P. 429 U. S. 174.

(b) Moreover, since the board meeting was open to the public, the nonunion teacher addressed the board not merely as one of its employees but also as a concerned citizen, seeking to express his views on an important decision of his government. Where the board has so opened a forum for direct citizen involvement, it may not exclude teachers who make up the overwhelming proportion of school employees and are most concerned with the proceedings. Whatever its duties as an employer, when the board sits in public meetings to conduct public business and hear the views of citizens, under the First Amendment, it may not be required to discriminate between speakers on the basis of their employment, or the content of their speech. Pp. 429 U. S. 174-176.

2. The WERC's order, being designed to govern speech and conduct in the future, and not merely to punish past conduct, is an improper prior restraint on teachers' expressions to the board on matters involving the operation of schools. Pp. 429 U. S. 176-177.

69 Wis.2d 200, 231 N.W.2d 206, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 429 U. S. 177. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 429 U. S. 180.

Page 429 U. S. 169

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