Ann Arbor, Education, Labor, Teachers, unions — June 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

Ann Arbor teachers file Unfair Labor Practice suit against school administration


As I mentioned in my last post, I have been traveling in China for work for the past two weeks. I’m now back in Michigan and have finally recovered from my jet lag and the 12-hour time difference. I appreciate your patience during my absence. Regular posting will now resume : )

Back in 2011, shortly after Republicans took control of our state government, one of the first things they did was to enact a series of laws designed to diminish the ability of teachers to bargain collectively for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. The new laws created local boards that would govern teacher discipline, teacher evaluations, teacher tenure and strengthened a prohibition on strikes to further harm unions that encourage them. The laws prohibited union contracts from addressing these issues.

Last month, Ann Arbor Public Schools passed a series of policies to ensure that these areas impacting teachers would not be subject to any future teacher employment agreements/contracts. The board voted unanimously in favor of them on May 27th.

In addition, the school board and administration determined that a June 2014 memorandum of agreement between teachers and the administration expires this month and are demanding that teachers renegotiate their contract.

Finally, Superintendent Jeanice Swift also took the unusual step of forcing all teachers who would be part of the district’s new International Baccalaureate program to reapply for their jobs:

March 27, 2015, is when everything changed.

For two decades, Ann Arbor teachers and administrators have had labor peace. There was a strike in 1994, but that was the last time the two groups had a major disagreement.

Then George Przygodski, the local Michigan Education Association UniServ director, got a call at 5 p.m. March 27 from David Comsa, the Ann Arbor Public Schools general counsel. The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education planned to move forward that evening on an International Baccalaureate program pilot program.

The pilot program means all 150 teachers at Huron High, Scarlett Middle and Mitchell Elementary schools will have to reapply for their jobs.

Superintendent Jeanice Swift says it’s to ensure the International Baccalaureate program, which is new to the district and will officially start in two years, has the right teachers, teachers who want to be part of the rigorous, globally focused curriculum. Teachers who don’t want to be a part of IB schools have the first opportunity for jobs in Ann Arbor’s other schools that have more traditional curriculum, she said.

Linda Carter, the Ann Arbor Education Association president, said she was shocked at this news. To her and to Ann Arbor’s teachers, it means no more collaboration on the IB program.

“That sent an awful message,” she said…

The Ann Arbor Education Association, the union which represents Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers, says their contract absolutely does NOT expire this month. In fact, they claim it remains in effect until the district pays back $4.5 million teachers gave up during contract negotiations in 2010.

The union states the contract does not end until the administration pays back $4.5 million to teachers, said Fred Klein, the Ann Arbor Education Association vice president.

In June 2010, the union agreed to a one-year, 2.2 percent pay cut and delayed salary steps, which saved the district $4.5 million. The 2010 memorandum of agreement states the provision remains in effect until district pays the money it owes back to teachers.

The AAEA released a statement on May 27th that discussed the issue of their contract expiring, saying “Stop using laws from Lansing against teachers”.

On April 30th, District officials sent a letter to union officials announcing their intention to terminate contracts for 1,200 K-12 public school teachers in the Ann Arbor School District. The move would leave more than 1,200 area teachers subject to several controversial laws passed in recent years by state legislators in Lansing. Critics say that such tactics are extreme and politically out of step for Ann Arbor, which boasts one of the strongest public school systems in Michigan.

“We don’t know why these new aggressive actions and policies are being introduced in the fourth quarter of the school year with 60 days to come to a peaceful resolution,” says AAEA president Linda Carter. “It seems like the district is actively trying to punish teachers at the most stressful time in the school year.”

Now teachers are calling for the Ann Arbor Schools Administration to take a more collaborative and measured approach, following the lead of institutions like the University of Michigan, which sidestepped anti-union education laws by extending contracts with strong job protections to all of it’s unionized employees through 2018.

In response to what they see as a series of attacks on Ann Arbor teachers which use draconian, anti-teacher Republican laws as cover, the AAEA has filed an Unfair Labor Practices lawsuit against the AAPS administration and the superintendent. According to their press release, they had no choice but to file the suit:

The AAEA is filing three charges against the district:

  1. The superintendent interfered and coerced AAEA members by communicating with them directly concerning the contract dispute.
  2. The superintendent interfered with the administration of the AAEA by directly communicating with AAEA members concerning her interpretation of the actions taken by AAEA leadership.
  3. The District repudiated the AAEA contract by maintaining that some sections are unenforceable or invalid, additionally claiming that the contract will expire June 30, 2015, and refusing to bargain over the International Baccalaureate Programme.

The AAEA’s choice to file the ULP is the result of a month-long dispute about the Ann Arbor teacher contract. Teachers say that the Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jeanice Swift, is forcing their hand, threatening to terminate a union contract and remove job protections critical to teacher success and strong education outcomes.

“Ann Arbor teachers have a long history of working with administration to solve problems,” said Judith DeWoskin, longtime Community High School English teacher. “I’m concerned that many young teachers are rethinking the viability of staying in the profession they deeply love.”

AAEA president Linda Carter gave an impassioned speech at their May 27th press conference:

Teachers, community members, and esteemed representatives of the press—thank you for being here.

I stand here today with my fellow teachers, gathered in unity to voice our shared concern about the future of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We believe the superintendent and the Board of Education have embarked upon a path which will at the very least damage, if not destroy, this school district. We will file an Unfair Labor Practice charge on behalf of our students who deserve professional, high quality, fairly compensated teachers in their classrooms.

After taking several pay cuts in recent years to keep the district afloat, teachers were shocked and saddened when our Superintendent, Dr. Jeanice Swift, and the Board of Education threatened to terminate our contract if we failed to bargain a new one in 60 days.

Making matters worse, the Board introduced three new policies at last week’s board meeting that align with our State Legislature in Lansing—policies that are out-of-step with our community’s values and remove job protections critical to teacher success and strong educational outcomes.

Teachers don’t understand why our Superintendent and board are taking such aggressive actions against us, especially in light of the sacrifices we have made in recent years.

More importantly, we don’t know why these new aggressive actions and policies are being introduced in the fourth quarter of the school year with so few days to come to a peaceful resolution. It seems like the district is actively trying to punish teachers while we have the least possible time and energy to defend ourselves.

In the past three weeks, our Superintendent has sent out 7 different public emails communicating her views on the contract discussions. Since we don’t have the ability to so easily communicate directly with parents and other community members, we would like to take this moment to address three points the superintendent has made in that time:

  1. The superintendent and board say our union is refusing to discuss our contract. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been in continuous, collaborative problem solving conversations every month of this school year. And in the past two weeks, district officials have met twice at our invitation – in our union offices – to discuss our contract. We even met last Thursday, May 21st – the same day the Superintendent sent an email claiming we weren’t willing to meet. This is starting to border on absurd. The fact that the district continues to say we refuse to talk undermines the good faith we have shown and the good will needed for further conversations.
  2. In Dr. Swift’s original May 4th email, she emphasized the need to “align the teacher contract with recent Michigan school reform legislation.” As teachers, we find this statement alarming and confusing. We can’t understand why the district is fighting legislation from Lansing on school funding and open carry gun law, yet aligning with Lansing on limiting teacher rights. The stance is contradictory, hypocritical, and out-of-step with our community’s values.
  3. The superintendent continues to point out that her proposed changes to our contract are “consistent with other districts across the state.” Teachers want to know why it is important for Ann Arbor Schools to be consistent with other districts—especially when our district motto is “exceptional” and our community continues to demonstrate its unique values. Ann Arbor voted very differently than most communities on Prop 1. We have reacted differently to the issue of “Open Carry” in schools. And the University of Michigan side-stepped anti-union laws by negotiating contracts with all five of its unions through 2018. Ann Arbor has never prioritized being consistent with other communities and our district should not aim to do what everyone else is doing across the state.

In closing, Ann Arbor teachers are calling on the AAPS Administration to change course. We are asking our parents to take a closer look at the district’s actions — not just the misleading words in our Superintendent’s emails. And we are asking our entire community — teachers and parents — to send letters to our Superintendent and board members and to continue attending board meetings. It is time to raise our collective voice and let the board know you support Ann Arbor Teachers and our efforts to keep Ann Arbor Schools exceptional for all of our students for years to come.

It’s truly surprising to see Ann Arbor Public Schools taking this non-collaborative, adversarial approach to dealing with the teachers who have already made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of the district and its students. To use anti-teacher Republican laws in what many see as a completely unnecessary way makes the moves even more galling. The irony is that Superintendent Swift spoke in favor of supporting teachers at an education rally in Ann Arbor less than one year ago.

I’m saddened to see the way this situation has degenerated. Anti-teacher, anti-union Republicans are sure to be chuckling among themselves as they see the results of their efforts creating such turmoil in the liberal bastion of Ann Arbor. Their anti-union laws are forcing the hands of even those districts – like AAPS – that have had good, collaborative relationships with their teachers and their unions, sowing disharmony, acrimony, and distrust.

If you think this is an accident, you’re wrong. This is the playbook of the corporatist front group Mackinac Center playing out exactly as they have been planning for over a decade. They have spent years creating the illusory perception that teachers are greedy parasites who are only in the profession to enrich themselves and that their union representatives are “union thugs” and “union bosses” who live high on the hog at the expense of school districts.

Those of us who know teachers, who value teachers, and who understand the critical, essential role teachers play in our society and in our communities know otherwise. We know that teachers are not greedy for asking for a fair wage, reasonable benefits, and an expectation that they can retire from their esteemed profession with dignity and enough resources to live as something other than paupers.

I truly hope that the AAPS administration and Supt. Swift can continue their history of working together with teachers to resolve problems fairly and equitably. If they cannot, it will be indisputable proof that Republican agenda of destroying public education in Michigan has succeeded beyond our worst fears.