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Detroit Teachers' Union Considers Options After New Contract Imposed

A week after Detroit Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts imposed a new contract on the districts' educators, the union's legal team is considering legal options it may have to fight the district, said Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, in an interview.

Johnson refused to call the document a "contract," instead referring to it as a "tyrannical edict." He has also refused to distribute the terms to his members, saying that to do so would be to legitimize the document.

"It didn't come from DFT, it wasn't reached in agreement with DFT. Why should the DFT do [Roberts'] dirty work?" Johnson said. A Detroit schools spokesman said that the school system is waiting for the union to work with its members, and if the contract details are not released, it will go ahead and do so.

But in the meantime, media outlets in Detroit have gleaned some details from the contract, which was imposed by Roberts on July 1 at the expiration of the last collective bargaining agreement. An article in the Detroit Free Press said that the new agreement, called a "successor collective bargaining agreement," said teachers "will see an increase in prescription co-pays from $5 to $10 for generic brands and the elimination of assault pay—regular pay they now receive while recovering from an injury on the job. The amount of time elementary teachers now get to prepare for classes will be cut from one period per day to two periods per week."

In a statement, Roberts said the contract "produces the savings necessary for the district to ultimately return to financial solvency and remove the debt that erodes financial resources reaching the classroom." Detroit is planning for enrollment of about 50,000 students when classes resume in August, representing the loss of about 100,000 students over the past decade.

Johnson, in an interview and in a message to his members, acknowledged that state law gives Roberts the power to impose a contract. However, he said that some of the provisions within the new contract might be subject to legal challenge. For exampe, said he said the new contract allows the district to fire teachers without any reason or cause, and that in arbitration proceedings, the union will be required to follow the decision of the arbitrator if the union loses a challenge, but the district is free to ignore an arbitrator if it is on the losing side.

"We're reviewing what legal challenge, if any, we can make to this," Johnson said.

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