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The president of the Utica Education Association says her members want a contract but have also authorized a "job action" that could result in a sickout or strike after contract negotiations have stalled with the district.

Liza Parkinson, president of the teachers union, said on Monday that members voted 96.3% to authorize the union's negotiating team to engage in crisis action. "It's illegal and people could lose their jobs," Parkinson said of a possible strike.

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The Macomb County district is the second largest in the state.

"We want a contract, but It’s a really sad state of affairs," Parkinson said. "We took wages freezes and cuts to make the district whole, when the state was really the enemy. Now the district has been made whole and the offer on the table is stingy considering the sacrifices we have made. Our teachers deserve better."

More than 1,600 people, including teachers, parents and representatives from other school districts, rallied in the falling snow Monday night, Parkinson said, before the district's board of education meeting, to bring attention to contract negotiations. U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, Utica Mayor Thom Dionne and Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller were expected to join the group later in the evening.

The Utica union, which has 1,471 members, has been in contract negotiations since March. Its collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30. It is seeking a three-year contract.

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 that the UCS 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 has gone to the bargaining table with the goal of regaining wage losses that have cost the union's members a collective $65 million.

"My teachers are four steps behind on the salary schedule," Parkinson said. "The traditional way a teacher engages a schedule is to increase one step for every year of service...We have young teachers who've been there for 10 years. They are on step 4.5 and they should be on 10."

Last month more than 1,000 members rallied at the UCS board of education meeting with the goal of raising awareness to the lack of progress in negotiations, Parkinson said.

“This isn’t about asking for a raise, it’s about getting restorative pay for the money we’ve sacrificed to keep Utica Community Schools financially stable,” Parkinson said. "We love our kids in UCS and want the District to sit down and actually bargain in good faith.” 

Filing the unfair labor practice charge was a "very serious step for us," Parkinson said, that was "drawn from our frustration in dealing with a UCS bargaining team that doesn’t appear to have permission from the superintendent of schools to actually bargain.” 

District spokesman Tim McAvoy said on Monday the union's actions are aimed at diverting attention from its proposals, which have not been agreed to by the vast majority of school districts in Macomb County or the region.

"Our Board of Education and superintendent take seriously their legal obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and the importance of being fiscally solvent," McAvoy said. "Within our resources, we want all employees to have compensation packages that reflect the high expectations and standards we have for our schools."

"It is why UCS teachers on average are among the highest paid in the state of Michigan. We will continue to bargain in good faith and work collaboratively with our union leadership toward a successor agreement."

McAvoy said the $65 million the union has referenced was part of negotiated, collaborative agreements with the UEA.

"During this time period, teachers have received step increases, half steps or off-schedule money six of those nine years," McAvoy said. "This represents additional compensation or salary increases."

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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