Teachers in support of the Utica Education Association picket outside an October Utica Community Schools Board of Education meeting to rally for a contract.

Teachers in support of the Utica Education Association picket outside an October Utica Community Schools Board of Education meeting to rally for a contract.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Mediation expected for ongoing teacher union talks

UCS sets contracts with paraprofessionals, administrators

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 17, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — Seven out of eight of Utica Community Schools’ staffing groups now have contract agreements with the Board of Education, but the last remaining one — the teachers union — is heading into contract mediation, school and labor officials said.

The Utica Education Association, a Michigan Education Association-affiliated union that represents more than 1,400 UCS teachers, started bargaining with UCS in March. While their last agreement expired in June, the two sides still haven’t reached a breakthrough.

This fall, UEA members rallied for a deal during UCS school board meetings. UEA President Liza Parkinson said that, among other things, the teachers want restoration of salary steps lost due to economic hard times from years ago.

As negotiations continued to be at an impasse, on Nov. 4, the UEA filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district, alleging violations of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act.

On Dec. 10, UEA spokesman Mark Gilman confirmed to the Sentry that UEA negotiations remained in flux, with no contract at hand.

“I will say that negotiations are going much better,” he said. “We’re pleased there have been some movements in this. We have put some very reasonable proposals on the table.”

However, the following day, UCS Superintendent Christine Johns had another impression on the state of talks.

“UCS has worked very hard to draft an agreement (for) the responsible use of taxpayer resources while providing reasonable compensation,” Johns said. “Despite our dedication to good-faith bargaining … the district and the UEA have been unable to agree to a mutually satisfactory successor contract.

“As a result, the district has requested a state mediator, and we are going to go into mediation. And mediation is a process whereby an experienced labor mediator will work with the parties to achieve a mutually acceptable resolution.”

Johns said the mediation process is coordinated through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, which is responsible for resolving labor disputes. She said the mediation will be in the “near future.”

“It’s the district’s goal, in requesting MERC mediation, to reach a new contract that is mutually agreeable to the Board of Education and the Utica Education Association,” Johns said.

On Dec. 11, Gilman said the UEA is being forced by the courts to go to mediation Dec. 18.

“Everything is on hold till that happens,” he said.


Parapro, admin contracts resolved
Two other UCS staff groups had their contracts settled recently.

On Dec. 9, the Utica Community Schools Board of Education approved a three-year contract agreement between the district and the Utica Paraprofessional Association, a union of about 300 parapros that is affiliated with the Michigan Education Association.

According to the school district, the agreement will increase district expenses by $1.5 million over its duration, which lasts until June 30, 2022. The agreement allows for the possibility of collectively bargained annual step increases, or salary increases based on employment longevity, according to UCS Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources and Transportation Mike Sturm.

“A step is an increase in wage or salary that is based on employment experience,” Sturm said. “Steps are not guaranteed. Steps are collectively bargained in each of the three years of the agreement.”

In addition, the parapros also may get a one-time $200 or $400 payment off-schedule. Sturm said “off-schedule” means the money is not part of the permanent wage scale, adding that such payments are part of deals like this because they don’t create budgetary legacy costs.

Lastly, UCS officials said the wage scale will also get a boost, offering the workers a chance of higher pay.

Utica Paraprofessional Association President Antonella Piccirilli, a Henry Ford II paraprofessional, spoke at the Dec. 9 meeting and thanked the district.

“This agreement will benefit each and every paraprofessional employed by the district,” she said. “It will also benefit the district, as it will help recruit … and maintain the professional staff required to succeed in our positions. These positions are critical to the education of our special-needs students.”

Also, UCS completed a one-year contract for 83 administrators, covering principals, assistant principals, directors, executive directors and supervisors. According to school officials, these admins will get step increases of as high as 1 1/2 steps, and for qualifying members, an $800 one-time payment off-schedule. The district expects a spending increase of $224,265 over the contract’s duration.

To learn more about Utica Community Schools, visit www.uticak12.org or call (586) 797-1000. To learn more about the Utica Education Association, visit www.ueaonline.org.