Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Striking In MoTown

Detroit's teachers went out on strike yesterday:
With teachers on the picket lines and Detroit Public Schools administrators asking Wayne County Circuit Court to force them back to the classrooms, a judge took a middle line Monday, ordering negotiators into a marathon, 24-hour session in hopes of breaking the impasse over a new contract.

And if that doesn't work by the time the session is scheduled to end at 6 tonight, both sides are to take an 8-hour break and then launch another full day of negotiations.

Whether Judge Susan Borman would then order the teachers back to school in time for next Tuesday's beginning of classes in the state's largest school district remains to be seen. But administrators say they have the law on their side: It's against the law for public employees to strike in Michigan.

Monday was supposed to be Detroit teachers' first day back at work, giving them a week to prepare for classes, but they voted Sunday to strike until a contract agreement is reached. They complained that the district wants them to take a mix of cuts in pay and benefits to make up $88 million of a projected $105-million budget deficit.

Only about 600 of the Detroit Federation of Teachers' 10,000 members reported to work Monday, according to the school district. Others picketed in front of schools.

Teachers carried signs bearing words such as "Stop Wasting the Money" and "Hands Off My Benefits," saying they refuse to go back to work until they see a contract that keeps their pay intact. The union has asked for a 3-year contract that would give teachers a 5% pay raise each year.

"I want fairness in the contract and a slight pay raise," said William Gardner, a fifth-grade teacher who picketed outside Malcolm X Academy's new site on West Chicago. "And I don't want to lose my benefits."

The order sending both sides back to the table came as Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and school board members appealed to them to hunker down for around-the-clock bargaining to ensure classes start on time.

In Detroit, teachers with master's degrees who are at the top of the scale earn $70,046 a year, placing the district 68th out of 83 in the metro area, according to the union.

Meeting with the Free Press' editorial board Monday, union President Janna Garrison complained that the district has not sent negotiators to the table who can make decisions to curtail the budget in other ways to get the contract hammered out.

"We are basically sitting up there with attorneys," Garrison said, "not decision makers."

The judge ordered Superintendent William F. Coleman III to take part in the marathon talks.

Michigan law prohibits strikes by public employees, and teachers can be fined a day's pay for each day of the strike. But the union struck without being fined seven years ago, learning that the process to fine strikers is too cumbersome when 10,000 workers are involved.

About 7,000 union members are teachers and the rest are other school employees.
Read the whole thing.

My guess is that some sort of agreement will be hammered out in time for classes to begin next week.

But who knows for sure?
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