Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 19, 2013

New leadership for union during talks

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools’ largest employee union is under new leadership as contract talks with district officials continue.

Former Traverse City Area Education Association President Mary McGee-Cullen recently accepted a temporary position with the statewide Michigan Education Association, where she will oversee 21 employee union contracts. Jeff Leonhardt is serving as interim president of the TCEA in the wake of McGee-Cullen’s departure.

Union members will elect a new president and vice president soon, possibly this week. Leonhardt, formerly TCEA’s vice president, said he’ll likely stay on as president.

“They’re in good hands,” McGee-Cullen said of TCEA members. “And I’ll still be with them every step of the way.”

Leonhardt, if elected, officially will take over the top TCEA post amid contract negotiations that began in March.

“We’re still working toward a fair and equitable settlement,” Leonhardt said.

District and union representatives most recently met with a state mediator at the TCEA’s Lafranier Road office on Tuesday while dozens of TCEA members gathered in the parking lot outside the building.

“We’re just here to support our negotiating team,” art teacher Linda Seibel said.

Representatives from both sides have declined to discuss specifics details of negotiations, but another mediation session is scheduled for Oct. 7. Union leaders also filed a fact finding petition with the Michigan Employee Relations Commission this week, McGee-Cullen said.

Fact finding is the second impasse resolution procedure after mediation provided by Michigan’s public sector labor laws, according to a MERC labor relations law guide.

It involves a MERC-appointed neutral fact finder holding a hearing at which both parties present facts and witnesses in support of their positions, the guide states. Such hearings usually are public, and the parties receive an objective report on their bargaining positions after they conclude.

TCAPS Human Resource Executive Director Christine Davis said the state mediator will determine if the parties are ready for fact finding.

The current contract between the TCEA and the district expired in late August, but union members continue to work for the district under the terms of the old contract.