Chippewa agrees to three more union contracts

By: Robert Guttersohn | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published March 27, 2013

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Just days away from when Michigan’s right-to-work law goes into effect, Chippewa Valley Schools and three more of its unions agreed to contract extensions March 18.

Because right-to-work does not touch current contracts when it goes into effect April 1, the extensions ensure the unions continue to collect dues from all its employees for the next three years.

The right-to-work law makes illegal the practice of forced unionization in a work place, leaving the choice of paying union dues up to individual employees.

Because union representatives will still have to negotiate benefits on behalf of the employees not paying dues, critics say the law will lead to freeloading and cause strife between employees.

Earlier in March, Chippewa Valley extended its contract with its teacher union, the Chippewa Valley Education Association, for three years.

On March 18, Chippewa’s Board of Education also approved union contracts with the Chippewa Valley Support Personnel Association — the district’s bus drivers, custodians and other support staff — the secretarial union and the paraprofessional union, which are both represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Board President George Sobah said that, with the right-to-work effective date being so close, the board entered the negotiations with leverage.

“We were able to bargain a better contract because (the unions) were motivated,” Sobah said.

He said the unions entered the negotiations hoping for a longer extension, but the board was not willing to go past three years due to the negative attention given to institutions like Wayne State University that have agreed to long contracts with their unions. The state Legislature has threatened to withhold a portion of funding to Wayne State University after its Board of Governors agreed to a 10-year contract with the faculty union. Additionally, he said the board was not interested in such a long-term plan because of funding uncertainty from the state.

“It’s nice to see that we could work out something that is mutually beneficial to both parties,” Sobah said. He added the board feels “that a happy employee is a better employee, and that’s what we want for each of our kids.”

The total number of employees represented by the three agreements represents 562 people, said Diane Blain, the director of school and community relations for the district. All contracts go into effect July 1.

The extensions are for three years. Each contract includes “hard caps” on insurance payouts from the district, a limit that will be determined later by state law, Blain said. Anything beyond that cap, she said, will come out of the pocket of the employee.

“This will result in a significant savings for the district,” Blain said.

Wages for bus drivers and other support staff will be completely restored to previous levels after their wages were cut in fiscal year 2011 by 1.25 percent. Wages for paraprofessionals will also be restored to fiscal year 2011 levels, which were cut by 4 percent.

Secretarial staff will receive no pay increases in the next three years but will have a decrease in the number of annual furlough days from five to one.

Sobah abstained from the secretarial union vote, and board member Andrew Patzert abstained from the paraprofessional union vote. Both were because of personal conflicts of interest.

The CVSPA contract vote was unanimous.

After the board approved the three extensions, Superintendent Ronald Roberts thanked the unions for getting the contracts completed.

“These are unusual times,” he said. “I think they did what was in the best interest of their members and the best interest of the district.”