MAPS votes to offer union new contract

MARQUETTE – Exactly one month after the Marquette Area Education Association signed a contract offered by the Marquette Area Public Schools administration, the district’s board of education still hasn’t signed.

Instead, the board voted Monday to offer the union a contract devoid of items the state has prohibited from the bargaining table, such as seniority and teacher layoffs.

Under the motion made by Board Vice President Scott Brogan and approved unanimously, if the union “does not sign the 2012-2013 contract in the version that is compliant with state law by May 1, 2013, then this board directs our administration to consider that we do not have a contract with MAEA for the 2012-2013 school year.”

The administration and teacher union have been deadlocked for months over the removal of the prohibited bargaining items.

The tentative agreement, which was signed by both sides Aug. 31 and ratified by both sides in September, made no written mention of the removal of the prohibited bargaining items.

The administration maintains it told the union during negotiations the items would be removed, in accordance with state law.

Union representative and Michigan Education Association UniServ Director for Marquette and Alger counties Stu Skauge said that never happened.

So when MAPS Superintendent Deb Veiht provided the union with a final contract that had the language removed, the union refused to sign, Skauge said.

After several discussions and the union considering filing an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employee Relations Commission against the district, Veiht said she offered the union a contract with the language still intact, which the union signed March 8, according to Skauge.

However, the board has yet to sign that contract, and is now setting a deadline for the union to sign the contract originally presented to it – without any language concerning the prohibited bargaining items.

If the union refuses to sign, steps – which are pay increases based on the number of years served in the district – that were awarded as part of the tentative agreement will no longer be paid, according to the board.

Board President Rich Rossway said the district is trying to stay compliant with state law, including Public Act 54, which prohibits school districts from paying steps to union members who are not operating under a current contract.

“This goes back to PA 54 and the compliance with Public Act 54,” Rossway said after the meeting’s conclusion. “Technically, we feel that if the union does not sign our version of the contract – which is compliant with state law – we do not have a contract. In the past, we felt we had a contract, but through further discussions with our negotiator, it became clear to us that we really do not have a meeting of the minds, and I guess that will be clarified with whether or not the union signs the contract that we presented them.”

During discussion on the motion, Brogan said he believes the two parties currently have an agreement, and is leaving it up to the union to prove him wrong.

“My understanding of it at this point and even to this point is that we have a contract, and this is really just a motion that I’ve made based on my own frustrations as whether the union hasn’t signed the contract that is compliant with state law…,” he said. “Failure to do so would, in fact, tell me that we don’t have a contract. But I think we do right now. I guess I’m leaving it to them to show us that we don’t.”

Skauge said he didn’t think that motion would make any difference.

“I don’t think the Marquette school board can pass a motion to do away with our ratified contract,” Skauge said. “They can pass a motion to start spring today, too, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have a ratified agreement. Both sides ratified it … In fact, there’s only a couple of months left on it. I don’t think passing that motion will do much good.”

Skauge said he was confused by the motion and the board’s intent to stop paying steps should the union refuse to sign, since he had met with both Rossway and Brogan, as well as Veiht, earlier Monday and no mention of that had been made.

“We agreed to a letter of understanding that we do have a contract, so I was very surprised this morning to hear they had passed that motion,” Skauge said.

Skauge said if the board changes “the contract in any way from what was ratified, no, we won’t sign it.”

“It’s very confusing for me to think that the last time we met with the superintendent and the administration, it was to sign the contract the way it was ratified,” Skauge added. “Then the board had a meeting and decides that we don’t have a contract. We met yesterday, and they want a letter of understanding that we have a contract and some of this language would be discussed the next time we start negotiations … We met with them at 2:30. Their meeting was at 5:30. What changed in that three hours, I don’t know, especially when the person that made the motion was at the meeting. It is pretty confusing for us.”

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.