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Conn urges DFT members to quit, join a new union

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

One day after losing his bid to be reinstated as president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Steve Conn stood outside the Masonic Temple on Friday and called on members to quit the local, stop paying dues and join a new union he plans to start.

“We’re here today to announce the beginning of organizing a new Detroit teachers’ union,” said Conn, surrounded by about 30 supporters, including student and adult members of the civil rights group BAMN, his wife, Heather Miller, and his lawyer, Shanta Driver.

“We’ll be circulating cards for people to sign to opt out of DFT and join our union because teachers don’t have a union,” Conn said.

“They’ve jumped into the arms of the emergency manager and governor who are working against teachers. They lose, lose, lose, but they continue to collect dues, dues, dues. That’s all they’re interested in.”

He said teachers who want to join his union will need to sign two cards: one to opt out of DFT and one to join the new, yet-to-be-named union.

Conn, 57, who was elected DFT president in a runoff in January, was removed from office and expelled from the union after an internal trial last month in which the executive board found him guilty of five misconduct charges.

At a DFT meeting Thursday, members voted 527-473 to reinstate Conn — a majority, but short of the two-thirds needed for him to reclaim office.

Executive vice president Ivy Bailey, who has been serving as interim president of the DFT, slammed Conn’s plans in a statement Friday.

“It is my understanding that after last night’s DFT meeting at which Steve Conn was unsuccessful in overturning his misconduct conviction, Conn is encouraging members to not pay union dues and to form his own union,” she said. “The DFT is the bargaining unit recognized legally by DPS with exclusive bargaining rights and representation of members. Any group or union that Conn forms is just that — a group.”

Bailey continued: “If Steve Conn organizes members to not pay union dues, he essentially would be serving as an agent of Governor Snyder and the Mackinac Center by destroying unions and collective bargaining for DPS employees. These are not the actions of a labor leader. These are the actions of a union buster!”

Driver said Conn and his supporters could create a new union with the option of affiliating with another union at some time. She also said the union could include teachers from charter schools and the state-run Education Achievement Authority.

She said Conn and his backers will discuss appealing his removal to the American Federation of Teachers, but Driver expressed doubt about their chances of success.

Asked how the new union will be different from the DFT, Conn replied, “Majority rule is what will be different. This is the third time I’ve won the majority vote but Steve Conn can’t be president because 16 people — the executive board — says you can’t be.”

Conn said DPS teachers have faced a series of setbacks, including increasing class sizes, supply shortages, and pay and benefit cuts.

“We need a union,” he said. “Teachers will have to opt out of DFT, which is their right. They need books, supplies and higher teacher pay. We’re standing up for what’s right.”


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