Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Detroit Contract Scorecard...scored by Dr. Homeslice.

Those of us in urban unionland watched the Detroit strike with a lot of anticipation. Not only was this one of the biggest urban strikes in recent memory, (especially since the beginning of NCLB) but it was in a district fraught with problems; torn asunder with enrollment issues, a bleeding budget and the hounds of charter schools nipping at it’s heels.

The district was asking for $88 million in concessions from DFT to patch a $105 million hole in their budget. The remaining money would have come from concessions from other unions. The two sticking points for the union were the increase in insurance co-pays (20% of the total) and up to a 5.5% reduction in pay that the school board was asking for. When the DFT voted on the proposed contract by the board only 2 of roughly 6,000 teachers voted to accept the plan. The membership then voted for a strike—the date was August 28th.

Believe it or not, a law in Michigan makes it illegal for teachers to strike. Public Act 112 allows teachers to be fined one day’s pay for each day the teacher spends on strike. The catch, however, is that the only entity that can fine the teachers is the school district they are striking because of. A judge ordered the teachers back into their classrooms on Friday, September 8thth— yet on Monday, September 11th, the vast majority of the teachers refused to return to work.

That night, the Mayor of Detroit brought the union and the school board together in his office and after a 10 hour late night negotiation session, they reached a deal. DFT’s executive board tentatively approved the deal on Tuesday, and the rank and file membership agreed to accept the tentative agreement on Wednesday, September 13th until a secret ratification vote could be taken. Teachers and students returned to class on Thursday, September 14th.

The strike lasted 16 days, and strikers were ordered back into their classrooms with a court order. Shortly after that happened, EdWonks predicted that: "… with their strike (apparently) broken, the teachers' bargaining position is greatly weakened and will likely result in a final settlement favorable to district administration. " At the time, I actually stated in public that I agreed with them. After thinking more and more about it and musing with a few union folks, I have scored the game to see who won.

The administration wanted the contract to be a giveback contract-- they wanted to see how much money they could squeeze out of the teachers' paychecks in order to fix as much of the district's deficit as possible.

The implications of a "giveback" contract could have been wide and far ranging, not just for those in DPS, but for all unionized teachers in large urban locals. Countless large urban districts have been savaged by "choice" programs (be they voucher or charter). They are quite literally hemorrhaging both students and money. How so? Administrators across the country could point to what was done in Detroit and get ideas when contracts came back up for renegotiation. However, the Union refused to consider givebacks on the salary and in fact asked for a 5.5% raise after a long period of what can best be described as wage stagnation. In the end, the DPS was unable to decrease established wages of the bargaining unit in negotiations-- no one's paycheck will shrink due to the lessening of salary. Can't you hear it now? "They did it...so why can't you?".

That’s one point for the union. One to zip.

While the union was able to avoid a giveback, they did agree to freeze wages for this year and increase wages by 1% and 2% for years two and three, respectively. While this increase does nothing to cope with the cost of living increases that members of the unit will probably have to deal with in the coming years, and they are token increases in pay, they are increases nonetheless, bucking the district’s plan of a 5.5% reduction across the board.

That’s one point for the union. Two to zip.

Five sick days were frozen for this year only. That means they’re uh, there…but ya can’t use them. DFT members got 10 days per year, this year they’re down to 5. I don’t know about this one—we need our sick days. There are things that happen that make you need those days…but by doing this they saved the district about $7 million. The district will eventually reimburse the days over time to the membership.

That’s one point for the district. Two to one.

4 days’ pay was forfeited by the union during the strike, which saved the district $12 million dollars. Did I mention that the district has over a $1 billion dollar budget? It does. The district didn’t have to do anything, and they saved money.

That’s one point for the district. Two to two.

The union also agreed to cut benefits and pay to its substitutes. DPS had prided itself on having the highest pay for subs in the state; now this may not be the case. They saved $12 million there as well. I am not completely familiar with the contract, so I don’t know what status subs have in the bargaining unit—it would be interesting to find that out. If they are included under the umbrella, you’ve got some scab protection there. In this game, we can do half points.

That’s a half point for the district. Two to two point five.

The negotiations also saw the loss of elementary teachers’ prep daily prep period, something that was only added in 2002. This is the only concession that is borne on the backs of one part of the membership rather than the whole. Doubtless there is quite a bit of grumbling among the elementary school teachers, as they probably feel as if they are being “sold out” for the good of the whole. I must say, however, that if my prep period were taken away and teachers in other grade levels kept theirs, I would be pretty steamed. This is the kind of catalyst within a union that changes leadership at the top and on the executive board. Watch the ripples from this concession closely. Estimated savings for this item were $7 million.

That’s one point for the district. Two to three point five.

Insurance is at the heart of almost every negotiation between a union and a district, regardless of the size or demographics of either. Insurance costs are outpacing inflation at a record rate these days, so districts will look to cut insurance costs any way they can, especially by passing those costs onto the union members. Roughly 40% of DPS teachers were hired before 1992—this is a critical date, as those folks paid no premiums of any kind—until now. As a result of this agreement, they will now pay a total of 10% of the cost of their premiums. All teachers hired after 1992 (that’s 60% of the membership, folks) already pay 10% of the total insurance premiums. Their insurance will not go up at all—just the uh… “veteran” teachers.

On a side note, I think it is ignorant and stupid to believe that we cannot shoulder the costs of insurance premiums. While I oppose ceilings and rate increases, the idea that there is a select group in any membership that doesn’t have to pay premiums goes against the very nature of equality under the contract that is central to the labor movement. The savings for this item were $3.5 million dollars.

That’s one point for the union. Three to three point five.

I think the true diamond in all of the coals of contract negotiations was a little ditty regarding legal representation. As educators, we constantly put our jobs on the line simply because of the allegations of individuals who are bent on our professional decimation. Furthermore, we present ourselves as large targets in an increasingly litigious society that is anything but friendly.
The union was able to secure an article that allowed unit members who are being sued to be able to request legal representation and indemnification from the school district. The only condition is that the District won’t provide assistance if you weren’t acting within the scope of your duties, which includes illegal or criminal acts. Unfortunately if you are rejected you cannot file a grievance, though you can appeal to the Office of General Counsel for the District.

That’s one point for the union. Four to three point five.

DPS originally asked DFT for $88 million in concessions. The union ended up tentatively agreeing to $39 million and getting a pay raise. Anyone who says that they shouldn't have given anything up isn't living on planet Earth anymore.

That’s one point for the union. Five to three point five.

The game’s not over yet folks. This is only halftime. Count day is coming up for DPS, tomorrow, actually as I write this. Schools are luring kids to school with mentions of free IPOD’s and free pizza. Current numbers show that the district may be down as much as 25,000 students—though we all know that the people who can do math are the ones in the classroom teaching, not in the central office. If the numbers are down that far, DPS stands to loose over $100 million in state funding, which will only increase its budget woes. On top of that, the rank and file hasn't even actually ratified the new contract. Only time will tell....

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