More disheartening news came for teachers in Detroit on July 28, where they were told that all Detroit Public School teachers would be taking a 10% wage cut starting with their August 23rd paycheck.
Detroit Public Schools face a $327 million deficit, and it was up to Roy Roberts, the district’s emergency manager to make difficult decisions to save additional money. Public Act 4, which was approved earlier this year by Michigan’s Congress and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, is a law which gives emergency managers like Roberts significant powers to turnaround municipalities and school districts that are struggling financially. Roberts used these powers to override contracts with eight unions to impose a 10% pay cut while increasing employees’ health care contributions to 20%. Additionally, the school district will no longer reimburse teachers for unused sick days when they retire. Roberts says his plan will save the DPS $81.8 million.
Roberts stated, “These wage concessions and health care cost-sharing plans are being implemented because we are in an extremely difficult financial period for Detroit Public Schools.”
The district had already made significant cost cuts in the 2011-2012 budget by closing schools and cutting 796 positions.
Unions were told last Friday of Robert’s decision, which overwrote the previous union contract, and Keith Johnson, Detroit Federation of Teachers president stated that the union was “not pleased with it” and would “not accept it.” Johnson plans to fight this plan which would set up a potential test case for Public Act 4.
In an interview with Fox 2’s Ronnie Dahl, Johnson said, “We’ve done a number of things in order to save this district from themselves, and yet the district continues to want to pimp us. And that’s what it really comes down to; they’re trying to pimp us. And we’re not having it.”
Johnson referred to the contract ratified 19 months ago with Robert’s predecessor when he said, “We have given $93 million to this district in this particular contract in cost savings. And yet, as much as we continue to demonstrate a willingness to give through collective bargaining, now the district has decided it simply wants to take. So, if you decide you want to take, we’re going to strike back.”
Johnson also claims that it is the administration, not teachers, bus drivers, or custodians who are at fault for this deficit, and said, “They want to heap the responsibility for their irresponsibility on the backs of the working force, and we’re simply not going to stand for it.”
Later, in an interview with WJR-AM 760 on Monday, Johnson explained why he felt they were in a better position to challenge Robert’s authority under Public Act 4. “I think it is the best test case because we negotiated this agreement during a financial agreement with an emergency financial manager,” he said. “And I think that puts a unique perspective on where we are … in terms of challenging this.”
Roberts told Frank Beckman from 760 WJR later on Monday, that while he understands the union’s frustration with the added forced cuts, they were a responsible option that was not available to his predecessor.
Roberts explained, “Times are different. I’m here under a different public act. Public Act 4 really gives me the authority to run the district. If I was a foolish person, that might be too much authority to put in one’s hands. I’m not a foolish person.”
In the meantime, Johnson is encouraging his members to report to their assigned positions as scheduled on August 29. He says he will honor the current collective bargaining agreement, but it would appear that they will fight this battle on forced concessions in court as opposed to striking.
“I negotiated this deal in good faith, I’m going to honor it in good faith, and I’m going to ask my members to do the same,” Roberts said.
When Charlie Langton, Fox 2’s legal analyst was asked if Roberts was legally able to force the concessions he has called for, he read the following directly from Public Act 4: “… in his sole discretion now the emergency financial director can reject, modify, or terminate an existing contract.” Roberts was therefore within the guidelines of this act when he changed the contract.
Langton went on to explain that all Roberts would have to be able to prove if he is challenged on his decision, is that there was an economic problem within the district, and a $327 million deficit would certainly qualify as an economic problem, and that he isn’t targeting a specific group of workers, and since everyone will equally share in the pay cuts and other concessions, including union and nonunion workers and Roy Roberts himself, he is safe there as well.
So, it looks like these drastic measures will probably stand up in court, and the employees of Detroit Public Schools will have to tighten their belts if they want to keep their jobs.
Please know that I don’t make that statement lightly. It’s hard enough to survive financially when the cost of living continues to escalate and your salary is frozen. How much harder it will be for the employees of Detroit Public Schools to face higher living costs when their income is being cut so drastically!