Monday, September 11, 2006

Detroit Teachers Reject Court Order to Return to Work

Detroit Teachers Militantly Defy Court Order to End Strike

PANW Editor's Note: Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) strongly rejected the order of Judge Susan Borman to end their strike and return to work on Monday. Instead teachers demonstrated outside schools and emphasized that they will not return to work until they have a contract.

At Cobo Conference Center in downtown Detroit on Sunday afternoon, thousands of DFT members erupted in chants of "No Contract, No Work" as union president Janna Garrison read the order issued on Friday by Judge Borman. This militant stance by the DFT has garnered substantial support from people in the city of Detroit.

The union is going against the trend of acceptance of the massive rollbacks in salaries and benefits imposed on workers in the state of Michigan and around the United States. City of Detroit employees had a 10% wage increase imposed of them during the summer. Employees at Delphi, Ford and General Motors are being faced with salary cuts, benefit reductions, threats to their pensions and so-called "buyouts" as the corporate community seeks every means possible to pass on the current woes of the economic crisis to the workers and their families.

DFT officials and members may face fines and threats of prosecution for defying the orders of the Wayne County Circuit Court but they seemed prepared to stand down the legal system and the bosses in order to preserve the integrity of their professions and to halt increasing attacks on their dignity as working people.

Abayomi Azikiwe

Detroit teachers defy judge's order and begin picketing at schools

No agreement reached in weekend talks; Detroit students set to report Tuesday

Amy Lee and Catherine Jun
The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Public school teachers waved homemade signs and chanted "no contract, no work" at various Detroit schools this morning, risking fines or jail time by defying a judge's order requiring them to return to work today.

At Marquette Elementary and Middle School on the city's east side, about 24 teachers gathered at 7:30 a.m. with plans to picket the entire day. Meanwhile, the district and its teachers union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, were scheduled to return to the bargaining table at 9 a.m. for another round of marathon negotiations.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Susan Borman on Friday ordered the teachers back to class. The district cancelled classes Monday but intends to welcome students back on Tuesday, said district spokesman Lekan Oguntoyinbo.

"The overwhelming majority of our teachers stayed away today," said Oguntoyinbo, who said it's likely the district on Monday afternoon will ask the court for help in forcing teachers back to class.

The direct has two options to penalize teachers with fines or jail time: it can ask Borman to hold the striking teachers in contempt of court or it could ask the state's Michigan Employment Relations Commission to investigate whether the teachers have violated state statue by holding a strike, according to Ruthanne Okun, director of the bureau.

If a settlement is not reached by 6 p.m. today, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said she will ask the employment relations commission to conduct a fact finding mission to determine the state of the district's finances.

"A fact finder would determine the validity of the district's finances and whether in fact there is money is available to settle the contract in the fashion that the teachers are asking, or whether the district needs concessions," Okun said.

Detroit public school teachers vowed to remain on strike during a brief but raucous meeting of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union Sunday at Cobo Center.

Meanwhile, classes are set to resume Tuesday, according to Detroit Public Schools Superintendent William Coleman III.

Thousands of teachers erupted in thunderous applause, fist-pumping and chanting "no contract, no work" at Cobo Center on Sunday.

"I've never seen anything like it, and my heart swells with pride," said Heather Miller, 36, a fifth-grade teacher at Marquette Elementary School on the city's east side.

"Teachers know they are fighting for the future of the Detroit Public Schools."

Today is the first day teachers are scheduled to return to their classrooms after a 14-day strike, as ordered by Wayne Circuit Judge Susan D. Borman on Friday.

Furloughed employees are being called back today as well.

"I'll be showing my support on the front line, the picket line," said Roosevelt Lawrence, who teaches public safety at A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center and attended Sunday's meeting.

Marathon talks over the weekend dissolved Saturday night without an agreement.

However, Coleman was optimistic that teachers would heed the judge's order to return today.

"My belief is that most people respect the law and will obey the law," he said. He said the district would reconsider opening the schools depending on what happens today.

Granholm issued a statement urging teachers to return to the classroom today.

"It is clear that the absence of this kind of credible analysis has led to significant distrust and has impeded the achievement of an agreement," Granholm said. She suggested fact-finding more than a week ago, but the union rejected it, Coleman said.

Caught in the middle are parents and students.

"I see it from both ends," said Lisa Christenson, a parent and former teacher in the district. She supports the teachers and recalled spending her own money to buy classroom supplies when she taught at Roberto Clemente.

Her 14-year-old daughter, however, was supposed to start Southwestern High School last week. "She's been waiting forever to go to high school," she said. "She's a little frustrated."

At Cobo Center, Janna Garrison, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, asked fellow union officials to read Borman's order aloud with her to the group. The teachers, however, immediately began chanting "no contract, no work." The union represents 7,000 teachers and 2,500 other school employees.

Some held signs such as "I am DPS: Detroit Poor Schoolteacher"
and "Chop from the Top."

Garrison's parting message to the teachers was "Be safe."

District officials said the union Saturday rejected a contract proposal that included wage reductions in the first year but increases in the second and third year that amounted to 3.5 percent.

"It was the most generous offer made to date," Coleman said.

The offer was made possible by shifting state money that freed up general fund dollars, which was a suggestion of the union, he said.

Garrison disputed the numbers and said the offer still included
"ludicrous" terms, like reducing layoff notices from 60 to 10 days, eliminating legal assistance to teachers in lawsuits and denying the promised return of seniority pay increases.

"Now, for them to come in and say they've changed our minds it's ridiculous," she said.

She said she would not agree to a settlement until all seniority steps were returned. Both sides have tentatively agreed to health care changes.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume this morning. No talks were scheduled for Sunday.

The district is seeking $89 million in concessions from the teachers union to balance its $1.4 billion budget this year.

District officials, meanwhile, have handed out more than 2,000 study packets to parents that include preparation materials for the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

Packets will be distributed today from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Welcome Center, 3031 W. Grand Blvd.

Winton Hart picked up a packet for her 16-year-old son, Bezmond, so he doesn't get left behind, she said.

"I want to go back to school!" said Bezmond Hart, an 11th-grader at Crockett High School. "I need to graduate, with all these teachers not returning, we ain't going to get no education."

Teachers went on strike Aug. 28 after rejecting a proposal that included a 5.55 percent pay cut and increased co-pays on health care benefits. Classes were held for half a day and then canceled since Sept. 6.

You can reach Catherine Jun at (313) 222-2269 or

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