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You are Viewing an Archived IssuePosted: 09/19/12
Union takes action against
RCS for alleged 'lockout'
by CHRIS GRAYThe local teacher's union is seeking retribution for what it claims as Romeo Community Schools avoiding its obligations to pay staff members.
Observer Staff Writer
The Michigan Educational Association (MEA) Local 1 is taking Romeo and Fraser school districts to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC), saying a violation has occurred by the districts starting school later to stop the payment of step increases.
School officials, however, claim they have not violated any laws.
Representatives from both teachers' unions approached MERC on Sept. 6 regarding what they are calling a "lockout." At the center of the debate is Public Act 54, which states when a contract expires the employer must provide wages and benefits until a new agreement is in place.
Paula Herbart, president of MEA Local 1, said the districts are in violation because they imposed start dates after the latest contracts expired to avoid paying for steps that were already agreed upon. In Romeo's case, the contract expired Aug. 31 but school began on Sept. 5.
"They literally put off or didn't come to settlement and didn't allow teachers to work prior to September to avoid status quo and payment of seniority steps," Herbart said.
In addition, Herbart said start dates should be decided in collective bargaining agreements, not by the district alone.
"By starting on a date not agreed to . . . they imposed their calendar," she said.
Administrative law judges moved the cases to evidentiary hearings to collect evidence and testimony regarding the charges. Romeo's evidentiary hearings will be held Sept. 28 and Oct. 2-3 in front of Judge Julia Stern.
The judges will write opinion pieces that are submitted to the MERC board, which in turn decides the verdict.
If found guilty, the district will pay $5,000 for each day the teachers were locked out and $250 a day for each member of the Board of Education. There would be two day's worth of fines for each district to pay.
A press release from Local 1 states the district's actions were done to coerce the teachers into current negotiations.
"It is unfortunate that the districts have chosen to litigate and continue to pay legal fees instead of honoring agreements made in good faith to their dedicated educational staffs," Herbart said.
Romeo Community Schools Superintendent Nancy Campbell said the expired contract didn't have a start date for the 2012-13 school year and that negotiations over the summer hadn't established a calendar.
"It's regrettable that all the time we had to negotiate, that it didn't happen," she said.
Campbell said the district differs in opinion on a start date being a negotiated item, saying Michigan law doesn't specify whether the starting date is for teachers or students.
The law does say, however, that establishing a starting day is not an item for collective bargaining representatives and their employers.
"Seniority steps, wages, benefits and contracted work days are all negotiated," Campbell said. "Because of new legislation, by not starting school until after Labor Day the steps were not automatic."
Campbell said no actual lockout took place, as teachers were allowed to come in and work on a voluntary basis.
Michigan law defines a lockout as temporarily withholding work from employees by shutting down operations to pressure the employees or bargaining representative to accept the terms of settlement in a labor dispute.
"No doors were locked, no one was prevented from working," Campbell said.
Fraser's hearings will be held Sept. 24-27 before Judge Doyle O'Connor.