Above: Detroit teachers and students rally in Lansing June 6, 2015
By Steve Conn, Pres. Detroit Federation of Teachers
August 9, 2015
I joined the other leaders of the Coalition of Unions in a meeting [Thurs. August 6] with DPS officials about the Emergency Manager’s plans for devastating health care cuts. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this issue, and as with all union negotiations, I am duty bound to report to the membership.
DPS began the meeting by introducing a modification of their health care cuts plan that would allow employees the option of avoiding most of the huge deductibles, although only by paying a much larger share of the premium costs in our paychecks.
The Coalition reiterated its position that “all proposed health care cuts must be rescinded,” as stated in a July 31 op-ed column in the Detroit News. (See below.)
Certainly, we have a long way to go before we can say we have won this fight. But it cannot be denied that this DPS modified plan is some improvement. What caused the EM’s modification? The only explanation is that Mr. Darnell Earley is reacting to the new fighting activism of the DFT in the past several months: pickets, rallies, grievances, unfair labor practice charges at MERC, and our visits to Lansing.
The EM is also continually reminded that the DFT does not fight alone. BAMN, the Operating Engineers Union, and other groups and individuals are always there with us. Our public activism has exposed how the health care cuts and other attacks by the governor are driving teachers out of the district, thus further crippling education in Detroit. Our protests have made it ever clearer how the people of Detroit stand with the DFT, and how isolated Mr. Earley, the governor’s handpicked agent, really is.
Some of our most active DFT members are continuing the work this summer by getting hundreds of Detroiters to sign petitions against health care cuts and school reconstitution, and for teacher placement. That petition is still available below. We also have several more court cases and court hearings scheduled before school begins that members can sit in on. In the fall, we must especially concentrate on building the size of our marches and rallies by increasing the membership participation from every school. Only when the fighting spirit spreads throughout the entire union membership will we be able to achieve our objective of stopping all the cuts, and beginning to win new gains, such as a pay raise.
As Dr. King put it so well in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, “So the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” We certainly have a long way to go. But we should celebrate the fact that we have started down the right road. If we continue in this way, I am completely confident of victory in this and every other fight our union enters into in the struggle to defend public education in Detroit.
Related VOD story:
Health care for teachers is worth fighting for
By Ruby Newbold, Pres. Detroit Assn. of Educational Employees, AFT 4168, Chair of Coalition of DPS Unions
July 31, 2015
Detroit Public Schools Employee A has two children. One has asthma and the other has extreme migraine headaches. The child with headaches has to see a neurologist twice a month. Mom also sees a neurologist for headaches. With the new health care plan proposed by the Emergency Manager (EM) the employee would have to pay $60 for each time she and her child see the neurologist. All costs for tests must be paid by the employee until she meets the proposed deductible of $6,000. This employee makes $24,000 a year.
Employee B was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this month. She started her treatments two weeks ago. Under the health care plan proposed by the EM, her deductible is $3,000 and her cost to visit her doctor increases to $60 a visit. This employee makes $22,000 a year.
Before you respond that everyone has to sacrifice when times are tough, please remember: These employees have sacrificed for over a decade. They haven’t had a wage increase since 2002, they took a 10 percent wage cut in 2011 and have forgone step increases. They have been burdened with increasing health care costs with decreasing benefits, currently pay over 20 percent of premium cost, have lost assault pay when they’re victims of assault at school and more.
DFT Executive Vice President Ivy Bailey has stressed, on top of all of these concessions, teachers have larger classes, no oversize-class pay, and have lost three hours a week of preparation time, as well as their national board certification bonus and tuition reimbursement. Moreover, in 2010 and 2011 they helped DPS with cash flow problems by lending them approximately $54 million by delaying receiving a portion of wages until they leave the district.
So I ask, how do we retain the best and the brightest to educate and serve our children?
The DPS minimum pay for a teacher with a bachelors degree is $35,683. The maximum for a teacher with a masters is $65,265. Now consider the Chippewa Valley, Plymouth-Canton and Waterford school districts, all receiving a lower foundation allowance per student than DPS. Chippewa Valley’s range is $38,064 to $85,873. Plymouth-Canton’s is $39,954 to $79,473 and Waterford’s is $37,200 to $75,302.
Why would a teacher work in Detroit if she can make more money with better benefits in virtually every other school district in Metro Detroit? DPS teachers and staff care deeply about their students, but they also care deeply about their families and their well-being.
It’s no wonder DPS already has a teacher shortage, one that will undoubtedly grow this coming school year, especially if the proposed health care cuts are implemented. There are $3 million in proposed cuts this coming year and $6 million the next. What is the cost of these cuts, the cost of a teacher shortage to our children, the cost of losing teachers and staff to other districts or careers?
These proposed cuts come just as our community has come together in support of a plan to save and enhance DPS. Just when the state is giving serious consideration to paying the DPS operating debt developed under state appointed school boards and EMs.
The EM has responded to our request for health care and financial information for us to analyze. We are all for saving DPS money, but not on the backs of the employees who educate our children or support those who do, and not in a manner that will do harm to DPS. The examples at the beginning of this piece are just two stories of many detailing what these proposed health care cuts would mean not only for teachers and staff, but for the district.
We call for all proposed health care cuts to be rescinded. We call on heath care providers to do their part in rebuilding DPS by allowing the district to save a portion of their desired $6 million without reducing benefits and increasing employee costs yet again.
If we value our children, we should value the women and men who educate them.
Ruby Newbold is chair of the Coalition of DPS Unions and President of the Detroit Association of Educational Employees, AFT 4168.