[Marxism] Detroit Cancels Classes as Teachers Defy Court

Michael Hoover mhhoover at gmail.com
Wed Sep 13 11:16:27 MDT 2006

Detroit cancels classes as teachers defy court

Catherine Jun, Amy Lee and Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- School officials are set to return to court today to seek
sanctions against the 92 percent of Detroit Public Schools teachers
who defied a court order and failed to return to the classroom Monday.

School officials said they will file a motion this morning requesting
that Judge Susan D. Borman find about 7,000 members of the Detroit
Federation of Teachers in contempt of court after they violated her
order to return to work Monday. Only 593 teachers obeyed the order.

Schools are closed indefinitely beginning today.

Borman was not expected to return to court until Wednesday.

Meanwhile, negotiations broke off Monday and state officials agreed to
appoint a fact finder, a move that ultimately could force the teachers
to accept the district's last, best offer.

Because of union leaders' unwillingness to encourage the teachers to
go back to work, Superintendent William Coleman III decided to close
schools indefinitely.

"We'll go back (to court) to exercise our right," said Lekan
Oguntoyinbo, district spokesman.

"Now how (Borman) does that, that's up to her."

According to state law, Borman has the authority to fine the union for
each day members disobey her ruling, said Robert Sedler, Wayne State
University labor professor.

The law allows for up to a $250 one-time fine for contempt, but Sedler
and other experts disagreed over who could be fined and for how much
for striking after the court order.

The law also allows those found in contempt to be jailed, but judges
rarely exercise that option because it can be interpreted as a
violation of the 13th amendment, which bars involuntary servitude.

"You can't put individuals in jail for not going to work," Sedler said.

The district would also be hard-pressed to hold union leaders in
contempt individually since they complied with the judge's ruling and
read the order at a meeting at Cobo Center on Sunday.

But the violation of Borman's order is potentially more serious than
participating in an illegal strike, said Don Bonato, an East Lansing
labor attorney who represents school districts around Michigan.

"It's more serious because of the greater likelihood that you're going
to be punished for what you've done," he said.

On Sunday, Coleman said the district has not ruled out filing
affidavits against each teacher, triggering state fines on the
teachers and the union. But experts say that route would be costly and
time-consuming because the law requires hearings for each employee.

"The bottom line is, school districts would say, 'I'm not going to pay
(attorneys) to go through all these hearings,' " Bonato said. "That's
an arm and a leg."

The parties agreed to curtail negotiations Monday afternoon because it
was apparent that an agreement would not be reached. There were no
plans late Monday for resuming talks.

Before the parties parted ways, Ruthanne Okun, director of the
Michigan Employment Relations Commission, briefed them on the state's
fact-finding process, as requested by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"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.

Granholm said by appointing an objective, third-party fact finder,
"the discrepancies and the ill will that has risen at the bargaining
table can be put to the side and the decisions can be based upon
objective facts."

Once a fact finder makes a determination, the parties have 60 days to
reach an agreement.

If they do not, the union must submit to the district's last, best offer.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has already compiled a
list of 10 potential fact finders it will recommend to both parties,
but the two parties can make their own suggestions.

"The more they can make the process their own, the better it will go,"
Okun said.

The district is seeking $89 million in concessions from the teachers
union to make up for a shortfall in its $1.4 billion budget this year.

"We welcome the fact-finding process," Coleman said in a statement.

"Fact-finding will make public the issues separating the parties."

Coleman also said he asked union president Janna Garrison to issue a
joint statement requesting that teachers return to their classrooms
while the two parties work through the state-mandated fact-finding
process. She declined, he said.

Garrison did not return calls for comment Monday.

"We don't think the fact finder is needed," said Keith Johnson, the
union's director of operations.

"There's no dispute about any of the information from the employer
from their budget; there's really no fact to find. I don't know what
purpose a fact-finder is going to serve."

On Monday morning, teachers marched with signs and chanted "no
contract, no work" at schools throughout the city.

At Denby High School, about 60 teachers walked the school perimeter,
gathering as early as 7:30 a.m.

"We have the right to protest what we think is unfair," said Cynthia
Van Horn, an English teacher.

She said she is not fazed by the court order, despite possible penalties.

Detroit teachers vowed to remain on strike during a brief but raucous
union meeting Sunday at Cobo Center.

They 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 a half-day and then canceled since Sept. 6.

"I'm ready to go back," said Lavance Hunt, 15, a 10th-grade student at
Finney High School.

He said he even had his new uniform laid out for Monday.

"We've been out for too long."

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