Ten thousand trade unionists and their supporters demonstrated at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on April 13, 2011. They were demanding an end to austerity measures in the state. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
April 15, 2011
Robert Bobb plans to use new powers to modify union contracts
BY LORI HIGGINS AND CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY
DETROIT FREE PRESS EDUCATION WRITERS
Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, put teachers on notice Thursday that he plans to use his expanded powers under a new state law to modify their contracts.
"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.
His statement came as the district announced Thursday it is sending layoff notices to all 5,466 members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and non-renewal notices to 248 administrators. DPS has issued massive layoff notices before, but not to every teacher.
The layoff notices are required under the contract within 60 days of the end of the school year. In recent years, the district has issued large numbers of layoff notices this time of year as it prepares to respond to shrinking enrollment.
The district said it plans to issue notices to its other bargaining units by April 30.
The layoff notices and Bobb's comments drew a sharp response from the DFT.
"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."
During the last contract negotiation in 2009, Bobb wanted the union to give up the seniority process so that administrators could hire or fire teachers regardless of experience. The union balked, but agreed to $90 million in concessions, including teachers deferring $10,000 in pay for two years. That money goes into an account, allowing the district to use it to pay bills, but employees are supposed to get it back when they exit the district.
Carla Henry, a high school special education teacher, said Thursday that teachers already gave up so much in the 2009 contract and she's angry that Bobb is now coming back and saying there will be more changes. She was among those who voted no to that contract.
"I personally feel this was a garbage contract," Henry said. "We were bamboozled. Now, the proof is in the pudding."
Henry said she is disheartened because she believes teachers are under attack across the country.
"We're just being walked all over, when we are the ones who help educate everyone else to get to the positions they're in, including the emergency financial manager. It took a teacher to educate him," she said.
District officials said in their news release Thursday that the layoff and non-renewal notices are a "fiscally responsible" step to trim the workforce to match the district's declining enrollment.
What's unclear is just how many teachers will lose their jobs.
Last April, the district sent layoff notices to 2,000 teachers based on seniority. But by August, most of those notices had been rescinded.
The release also said that "the timeliness of the process allows for ample preparation so that the district can assess staffing needs to create a smooth transition for the start of the school year and ensure all teachers and staff will be in place on the first day so that teaching and learning can begin immediately for students."