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Sunday, September 24, 2023
2018 gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn, graduate student activist Sonali Gupta and lawyer David De Bruin address members of the Teaching Assistant's Association during its meeting Thursday. Statewide legal teams have invited the TAA to be the lead plaintiff in a case challenging Foxconn.

TAA could lead state-wide coalition in anti-Foxconn lawsuit

UW-Madison’s Teaching Assistant’s Association will consider leading a class-action lawsuit against state officials for their failure to challenge the constitutionality of Foxconn’s contract. 

Lawyer David De Bruin and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn posed the possibility of legal action to the graduate student union during its general membership meeting Thursday night. The TAA would be the lead plaintiff in a challenge against Gov. Tony Evers, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Economic Development Council. 

“We’ve come here tonight to ask the TAA and some of the affiliated unions to support us,” Flynn said. “If something isn’t done, our budget for the next 15 years is going to be out hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

The deal that brought Foxconn to Wisconsin included an incentive package that could be worth $4 billion to the Taiwanese LCD manufacturer. 

Flynn and De Bruin have been working with a few other Milwaukee-based lawyers and economists to hold the state accountable following the deal it signed with Foxconn in 2017. They believe the contract violates the state’s constitution.

More, Foxconn’s failure to bring jobs into the state and its plans to scale back manufacturing breach the conditions outlined in its contract, regardless of whether or not the agreement was legal, according to De Bruin.

Evers could opt to file a breach of contract suit against Foxconn, but he hasn’t indicated that he intends to do so. 

Flynn and De Bruins’ goal is to prevent the state from sustaining Foxconn through measures like tax breaks and exceptional permitting. They also plan to push Evers to sue for breach of contract. 

In addition to taking legal action, De Bruin encouraged the TAA to put political pressure on state officials through consistent picketing efforts and further activism.

The TAA caught the legal team’s attention after it passed a resolution opposing Foxconn last December. In it, the TAA stated it would call on the Board of Regents and Evers to challenge the partnership, and that it would organize and work in coalition with other communities around the state.

The union is particularly concerned with the way Foxconn’s $100 million contract with the school could jeopardize researchers’ intellectual property rights.

Since December, the TAA has protested Foxconn at career fairs and Board of Regents meetings, and they have met with school officials to voice their worries.

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“The Foxconn agreement fulfills none of the basic standards inherent to a mutually valuable partnership,” said TAA activist Sonali Gupta. “The Foxconn deal is not a partnership; it is parasitism.”  

Flynn, De Bruin and a coalition of Wisconsin taxpayers are in the midst of filing a separate lawsuit against the state. This case will challenge the constitutionality of Foxconn’s contract with Wisconsin, and De Bruin said he feels confident about the outcome of the case.

But if its first effort fails to block Foxconn, the group sees a case led by the TAA as a strong second step.

“We’re here because we need your help,” De Bruin said. “And you and the other taxpayers of Wisconsin need each other.”

De Bruin estimates the total cost of the lawsuit would fall somewhere between $300,000-500,000. While he noted that the price tag was relatively low for this kind of action, the financial burden would still be substantial for the graduate student union.

Members of the TAA floated the possibility of engendering financial support from its parent unions and other organizations across the state to cover legal costs. It will continue to explore Flynn and De Bruin’s proposal in the coming weeks. 

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