[Marxism] Detroit teachers strike

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Mon Aug 28 14:25:55 MDT 2006


	Brandy Baker / The Detroit News

	Detroit teachers snap up picket signs as they leave Cobo Center
Sunday after voting to strike.

Detroit teachers strike

Catherine Jun / The Detroit News


DETROIT -- Thousands of Detroit Public Schools teachers are expected to go
on strike today instead of returning to their classrooms after rejecting the
school district's latest contract proposal, which includes a 5.55 percent
pay cut for all teachers.

This would be the first time since 1999 the city's teachers have walked out.

Chanting "No contract, no work," more than 6,000 teachers and other
employees represented by the Detroit Federation of Teachers gathered at Cobo
Center in downtown Detroit Sunday afternoon and voted en masse to picket
instead of return to school today. Teachers distributed picket signs

With students scheduled to return to school Sept. 5, some parents were
worried whether this would mean a delay.

"I totally support the teachers in not accepting the offer that was given,"
said Gwendolyn McKinney, a mother of three at Mark Twain Elementary and
Southwestern High School. "On the other hand, I do want the kids to get back
to learning," she said. "(I'm) caught between a rock and a hard place."

The news comes at a time when the cash-strapped district - with about 227
schools and a $105 million budget shortfall - is losing about 10,000
students a year to charter schools and neighboring districts.

In light of this, a strike would be "devastating" to the city and to
students, said Superintendent William F. Coleman III.

"Any lost day of instruction will make it that much more difficult for
Detroit public school students to compete against the students throughout
the rest of Michigan," Coleman said.

If many teachers do not return to school by Sept. 5, principals and other
staff members will be ready to teach using lesson plans, he added.

School officials were hopeful Sunday that most teachers would choose not to
participate in an illegal strike.

"We know there are many teachers out there who plan to come to work,"
Coleman said. "We will welcome them, and they will be paid."

Striking by public employees is illegal in Michigan, and teachers can be
fined a day's wages each day they don't report to school, and the union
$5,000 per day. However, the penalty is seldom meted out because it requires
hearings for each teacher.

Coleman vowed he would use all "legal remedies," including personally
holding hearings for each teacher illegally striking. District officials
said they would seek a court order to force the teachers back to school

Though the parties met 49 times since March, both sides are still miles
apart on major issues, including salaries and health benefits.

Negotiations broke off Friday with both sides filing unfair labor charges
against each other with the state.

The teachers are demanding 5 percent pay increases.

"They improve the classroom, they improve the environment for our students,
and they will give us comparable pay," union President Janna Garrison said.

She has also said the district is not taking advantage of $114 million in
cost savings.

District spokesman Lekan Oguntoyinbo said in a written response Sunday that
the union was "spreading lies," adding that nearly half of the dollars are
restricted to assist at-risk and disadvantaged children and cannot be used
to pay teachers.

He also said the teachers' pay raise proposals could cost the district $175
million over three years - money the district does not have.

After incurring a deficit of more than $200 million by 2005, the district
has eliminated positions and cut costs, according to a state deficit
elimination plan to the state.

The district is seeking concessions from all unions. It is asking for $88.9
million from teachers.

"We must get out of deficit - there's no room to budge," School Board
President Jimmy Womack said.

Jessica Curtin, 31, a social studies teacher at Crockett Technical High
School, said the cuts the district is seeking ultimately would drive away
the best teachers.. "The qualified teachers will go elsewhere," she said.

Union and school officials are scheduled to return to the negotiating table

You can reach Catherine Jun at (313) 222-222-2204 or cjun at detnews.com.

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