Utica teachers reject district's latest offer

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Utica — Teachers in Utica Community Schools overwhelmingly rejected the latest contract offer from the district, saying it felt short in restoring lost wages.

The union said it will consider whether to return to mediation or engage in a work action.

On Friday, about 87% of the Utica Education Association rejected the district's offer, which covered a three-year period, including the 2019-20 school year, union officials said.

People wave their signs as more than a thousand teachers, para-pros, parents and students attend a rally to support Utica teachers in November.

The union, which has 1,471 members and whose collective bargaining agreement expired June 30, has been in contract negotiations for 11 months, including the last two months in front of a state-appointed mediator.

Union president Liza Parkinson said the union bargaining team went to the table with the district in 2019 in hopes of restoring lost wage steps —  where teachers earn an increase for each additional year of experience — that have cost teachers at least $65 million.

Parkinson said the district's offer would have restored only one of the four-and-a-half lost steps.

"UCS will claim that the offer, worth $19.5 million, was generous," Parkinson said. "However, teachers with more than 11 years in service, representing 60% of the membership, each gave back $2,500 in negotiated furlough days in the past two years, but would only receive a total of $800 per year under UCS’ final three-year offer following 10 years of a frozen salary schedule."

District spokesman Tim McAvoy said on Monday the district made a respectful offer that incorporates several of the Utica Education Association proposals and includes $20.3 million in salary increases.

"Unfortunately, it did not result in a contract," McAvoy said. "The Board of Education and superintendent take seriously their responsibility to educate our 27,000 students through the services and programs we offer. We have a long legacy of being fiscally responsible to our families and taxpayers and being accountable for both the short- and long-term fiscal health of the district. "

Within its financial limits, the district want all of its employees to have competitive compensation packages that attract and retain a talented workforce, McAvoy said.

"We remain committed to the mediation process until we are able to agree on a successor labor agreement," McAvoy said.

Parkinson said the district's offer was a slap in the face of teachers who have been making major salary concessions in the school district for the past nine years. Thirteen teachers have left the district this school year, Parkinson said.

“This vote to reject the district’s take-it-or-leave-it-offer showed this process has made our teachers unhappy, devalued and disenfranchised,” Parkinson said. "More importantly, this offer showed disrespect for our children who deserve a classroom where their teachers are paid what they’re worth and who aren’t looking at retiring early or moving to another school district."

McAvoy said the district remains in mediation and will continue to be until the process is resolved.

"Any questions will be addressed through that process," McAvoy said.

The district, the state's second-largest and covers north Macomb County, has settled current contracts with seven of its eight employee groups.

On Nov. 4, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Utica Community Schools district for alleged violations of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act.

The union alleges the district's bargaining team has “engaged in specific acts of bad faith” and “has sent representatives to the bargaining table without the actual authority to negotiate or reach an agreement.”

Parkinson said the union will now look at options available to them, which could include going back to mediation, fact-finding or engaging in a work action, which members approved overwhelmingly as an option last fall.