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October 3, 2012

Fraser Schools, teachers union try to resolve lockout case

By Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writer

FRASER — Fraser Public Schools and the Fraser Education Association are working to reach an agreement in a lockout case that transpired when both sides disagreed on the official start date of school for teachers this year.

With the FEA still in contract negotiations, including the determination of a school calendar, there was confusion over the official start date.

FPS administrators advised teachers to return to their classes Sept. 4 — two days before students — but they came back to school one week earlier. Therefore, the teachers were working on a voluntary basis, according to school officials.

Because of the disparity of the start date, a complaint was filed Aug. 28 on behalf of the teachers union with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in Detroit.

Testimony in the case was set to begin Sept. 24 before MERC with Administrative Law Judge Doyle O’Connor presiding over the hearings. As proceedings began, O’Connor initiated conversations to move both sides in a different direction. Instead of the hearings, it was advised that district officials and the FEA try to resolve the issue through arbitration.

A letter from district Director of Human Resources Kerry Terman about the change was distributed to staff members Sept. 26.

“A joint decision was reached to set aside the lockout case filed by the FEA,” the letter stated. “A mutual agreement was also reached to engage in an expedited arbitration on all other outstanding issues. While we understand that there are differences that need to be worked out and resolved, the events and agreements reached on Monday provide both sides with a workable approach to reaching a settlement.

“It is important to know that both sides worked together on Monday to reach this agreement,” Terman stated. “It is with hope that we let the process work and keep in mind that our No. 1 responsibility is to the students and their parents who have entrusted us to foster the learning process of their children.”

MERC resolves labor disputes involving public and private sector employees by appointing mediators, arbitrators and fact finders, conducting union representation elections, determining appropriate bargaining units and adjudicating unfair labor practice cases. 

FEA contract negotiations are still ongoing, and a full 2012-13 calendar has yet to be finalized. The teachers union current contracts expire Aug. 31, 2014, but the contract re-opener expired Aug. 31, 2012, regarding salaries, benefits and the calendar.

Fraser teachers generally return to school the Tuesday and Wednesday before Labor Day. That practice continued this year, although administration gave a later date.  

“Typically our start date is in August for teachers to come in to be better prepared for the school year,” FEA President Regina Cable said in late August.

This year, FPS administrators gave teachers a start date of Sept. 4, one day after Labor Day. The first day for students was Sept. 6. Under Michigan law, the school year for students must start after Labor Day.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.