While school district finances were being explained at an Oct. 28 school board meeting, UEA members filled the room and turned their backs to the board while holding signs reading “$65 million on our backs!!!”

While school district finances were being explained at an Oct. 28 school board meeting, UEA members filled the room and turned their backs to the board while holding signs reading “$65 million on our backs!!!”

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Teachers union files labor charge against Utica Community Schools

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 12, 2019

 UEA members participate in a moving picket.

UEA members participate in a moving picket.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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UTICA/SHELBY TOWNSHIP/STERLING HEIGHTS — The Utica Education Association, a union representing teachers in the Utica Community Schools district, recently appealed to a state labor commission amid ongoing collective bargaining talks.

On Nov. 4, the UEA filed an unfair labor practice charge against UCS. The charge states that the district violated the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act multiple times.

UEA President Liza Parkinson said the charge was filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, and she expected the charge to eventually go to a hearing, though she didn’t know when. She said the Michigan Education Association, the UEA’s parent organization, is handling legal counsel.

“There’s a wide variety of outcomes, but mainly the goal is to use this as a way to leverage the district to bargain in good faith with us, and we would hope that the commission would see it that way as well,” she said.

The charge accuses UCS of being “engaged in specific acts of bad faith,” adding that the district’s representatives at the table have lacked true authority to obtain a deal.

In a statement, Parkinson said the union’s ultimate goal is to still reach a new deal. 

“This is a very serious step for us, drawn from our frustration in dealing with a UCS bargaining team that doesn’t appear to have permission from the superintendent of schools to actually bargain,” she said.

Parkinson said filing such a labor charge is relatively common during contentious bargaining talks. According to the union, labor negotiations toward a new agreement commenced in March; however, the most recent contract lapsed at the end of June. No new agreement has been reached yet.

Utica Education Association members rallied and protested Oct. 28 during a UCS Board of Education meeting. An estimated 1,460 UCS teachers belong to the union, according to Parkinson.

Although state per-pupil funding was cut by $470 in 2012, the funding has gone back up over the years. Although the UEA previously agreed to a salary step freeze and furlough days in past negotiations, its members believe that the district has recovered. As a result, the union wants teachers to get their salary steps back so they can restore their wages. 

According to Parkinson, the teachers have collectively sacrificed $65 million due to concessions, and she added that they are still 5 1/2 salary steps behind, with employees not seeing a raise in years.

The union and the school district met multiple times in early November in order to work out a deal. Parkinson told the Sentry that her negotiation team didn’t believe that recent talks ended well. In a statement, she said she wants to see good-faith bargaining from the district.

“This isn’t about asking for a raise; it’s about getting restorative pay for the money we’ve sacrificed to keep Utica Community Schools financially stable,” she said.

Parkinson said the lack of progress in talks is beginning to have a negative impact on employee climate and morale. She said UEA members recently voted 96.3% to give the union the authority to “initiate job action if necessary.” But she said teachers would rather not do that.

“It’s very damaging to the community,” Parkinson said. “Kids miss a day of school. It’s divisive among colleagues; it’s divisive among families. It hurts. It’s a horrible step to have to take, but we’re willing to take it if necessary. But it is absolutely not what we want to be doing — we want to bargain.”

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy called the unfair labor practice accusation a “media campaign to divert attention from the Utica Education Association proposal.”

“The school district is confident it will prevail, and the facts will show that the union proposal has not been agreed to by the vast majority of the school districts in Macomb County or the region,” he said.

“Our Board of Education and superintendent take seriously their legal obligations to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollars and the importance of being fiscally solvent. Within our resources, we want all employees to have compensation packages that reflect high expectations and standards (that) we have for our schools. It is why UCS teachers on average are among the highest-paid in the state of Michigan.

“We will continue to bargain in good faith and work collaboratively with our union leadership toward a successor agreement.” 

Learn more about Utica Community Schools by visiting www.uticak12.org. Learn more about the Utica Education Association by visiting www.ueaonline.org.

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