By CHRIS JACKETT
DEARBORN – Just when the Dearborn Public Schools teachers union was expecting a conclusion to a 19-month contract negotiation, the Board of Education has put the issue on the back burner, delaying a resolution until 2011.
The Dearborn Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers Local 681 filed an unfair labor practice charge Nov. 3 with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission after the district halted contract negotiations Oct. 27.
“We had met with the other side on the 27th, and that’s when they said (they couldn’t meet),” DFT President Christine Sipperley said. “They said it was the direction of the school board not to meet until fact finding was complete.”
A Nov. 8 statement from the DFT alleges DPS violated three specific provisions of the state’s public sector labor law. The charges include 1) refusing to meet to bargain despite the absence of impasse either claimed or actual, 2) that the district has not made meaningful efforts to work with the DFT and state-appointed mediator in order to reach a contract agreement and 3) that the board has removed the district negotiating team’s ability to find accommodation with the DFT, instead directing the team to settle the contract without negotiating.
“Our salary and health care proposal has been trying to help the district with their financial (struggles due to state funding),” Sipperley said of the biggest part of negotiations. “Things have been rough, but we’ve made a lot of headway. We were really expecting to reach an agreement, and they pulled the rug out from under us.
“Apparently, they think there hasn’t been any movement. I don’t know where they’re getting their information, but we’ve had a lot of movement.”
The school district released a statement Nov. 8 in response to the DFT’s press release. The statement says fact finding originally scheduled for Oct. 28 was pushed back to Nov. 22 at the request of the DFT.
Sipperley said, however, that the request was made with the hope that contract negotiations would be resolved by then, and that a third-party fact finding through the MERC would not be needed.
“We’ve got a lot of proposals agreed to,” she said. “We’ve been negotiating since April 2009. We’ve been signing contract extensions and (have a) step freeze, the third freeze in four years.
“Fact finding is a lot of time and a lot of money. Despite all this, if at any time they want to go back to the table, we’re ready and willing.”
The district’s statement says fact finding is not uncommon, nor is the filing of an unfair labor practice.
“The district feels that it has been negotiating in good faith and in accordance with the set procedures and rules,” the statement said. “During this process, the Dearborn Board of Education continues to support the hard work that Dearborn teachers are doing in the classroom. The desire of the board is to keep as many teachers as possible in the classroom and, at the same time, be mindful of current economic conditions.”
Sipperley said 60 days of negotiations are expected to follow the fact finding, but that a contract agreement could be reached during that time.
DFT members are planning a picket-sign rally at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22 before the 7 p.m. Board of Education meeting at the Administrative Services Center, 18700 Audette.
(Contact Chris Jackett at [email protected])