Teachers Unions Fight $81 Million Pay Cuts

     DETROIT (CN) – Three unions say the emergency manager of Detroit public schools has made unconstitutional “draconian reductions” in their wages and benefits, in violation of collective-bargaining agreements.
     Detroit public schools have been placed “under the sole management and control of defendant Roy Roberts Jr., the current ’emergency manager,’ who has virtually unbridled powers under Michigan’s recently enacted Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, 2011 Public Act 4 (‘P.A. 4′),” according to the federal class action. “Emergency Manager Roberts has ordered draconian reductions in the negotiated wages and benefits that the District, through its former ’emergency financial manager,’ Robert Bobb, agreed to provide to employees under collective bargaining agreements with plaintiffs that currently are in effect. The Emergency Manager’s action was taken with the approval of defendant Andy Dillon, the State Treasurer.”
     Plaintiffs – the Detroit Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers Local 231; the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, AFT Local 4168; and the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2350 – say the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act gave the state the power to “ride rough-shod over the U.S. Constitution” and the “power to displace the elected local board of education and operate the district singlehandedly.”
     Roberts was appointed emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools on March 16. He was given “power to reject, modify or terminate one or more terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement” under the Act.
     On July 29 Roberts imposed on members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers a 10 percent pay cut; a 20 percent mandatory employee premium contribution for medical and dental insurance; discontinuance of step increases in pay; discontinuance of payout of unused sick days; elimination of compensation for teachers with large classes; discontinuance of a longevity bonus; and suspension of other compensation.
     Roberts’ order also imposed a 10 percent pay cut on the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees and a 20 percent mandatory contribution for medical and dental insurance contribution, among other things; and imposed a 20 percent mandatory insurance contribution on the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals.
     Roberts made these changes after Robert Bobb, the former emergency manager, had “agreed to provide to employees under collective bargaining agreements … that currently are in effect,” the unions say.
     Bobb in 2009 had persuaded the Detroit Federation of Teachers to give up about $87 million in concessions to the school district to “help the district avoid bankruptcy, even with a drop in student population in the next school year,” according to the complaint.
     That agreement was to be effective through June 2013. But Roberts changed it.
     The unions seek a restraining order and injunction, claiming that without it, “the district’s employees, who have faithfully served the district and its students and who have given back millions of dollars in hard-won wages and benefits in recently negotiated agreements, will again be forced to bear the brunt of the district’s fiscal woes, this time in violation of their constitutional rights.”
     Roberts’ ukase will “effect an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment” and of the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the unions say.
     The unions say that the school district posted on its website that Roberts’ cuts to union contracts would save the district $81.1 million.
     The unions seek declaratory judgment that Roberts’ cuts are unconstitutional, and an injunction. They are represented by Andrew Nickelhoff and Marshall Widick with Sachs Waldman.

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