Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 26, 2013

TCAPS talks begin as right-to-work nears

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Several public entities in Michigan either extended or finalized union contracts before the state’s controversial right-to-work law goes into effect on Thursday, but Traverse City Area Public Schools isn’t among them.

The law, which Republicans pushed through the legislative process during last year’s lame-duck session, outlaws the mandatory payment of union fees or dues in public sector employee contracts.

TCAPS officials began negotiating terms of a new contract with union representatives this month. The district’s current teachers union contract expires at the end of August.

Mary McGee-Cullen, president of the Traverse City Area Education Association, which represents roughly 550 teachers, nurses, social workers and counselors, thinks TCAPS officials are frightened by Republican legislators’ proposed stiff financial penalties for public universities that finalize union contracts before Thursday, as well as by discussions about extending sanctions to K-12 districts.

“The Republican legislators are using bullying tactics to try and enforce this law, which does not even exist yet,” McGee-Cullen said.

TCAPS Human Resources Executive Director Christine Davis denied McGee-Cullen’s allegation. She acknowledged there is discussion about sanctioning districts that resolve contract negotiations before right-to-work kicks in, but she said a lack of time is the only reason TCAPS and the union won’t reach an agreement before Thursday.

“I do not feel bullied in any way,” Davis said.”It’s an unreasonable period of time to try and get a settlement.”

State Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, introduced an appropriations bill in February that would cut state aid to public universities that enter into labor contracts with “union security agreements” before March 28, unless those contracts result in at least 10 percent savings, according to a House Fiscal Agency report.

Some K-12 districts officials think their school systems could face similar sanctions.

Dearborn Public Schools Superintendent Brian Whiston worries districts will be excluded from receiving state best practice and technology funding if they approve contracts before right-to-work becomes effective.The DPS Board of Education considered final approval of a contract with its teachers union yesterday.

Whiston said DPS began negotiations last fall, well before right-to-work legislation surfaced in Lansing.

“We didn’t do anything unique or differently because of that,” Whiston said, adding, “The law is clear. We have authority to do this.”

Districts could face legal repercussions, too. Three teachers from Taylor School District southwest of Detroit filed a lawsuit against the district and its teachers union after the two sides reached an agreement last month extending mandatory union dues for 10 years.

Both Davis and McGee-Cullen said they want to negotiate a “fair” and “equitable” agreement as TCAPS’ contract negotiations unfold.

“And one that is fiscally responsible with the limited resources coming in from the state,” Davis said.

McGee-Cullen said the new right-to-work legislation could challenge “labor peace” between employees who keep paying dues and employees who do not.

“There could be some animosity,” she said.