Flint, MI—Teachers have filed a lawsuit against Flint Community Schools for “unfair labor practices” and engaging in “specific acts of bad faith” bargaining. 

The United Teachers of Flint filed the lawsuit on May 19 after the district proposed to remove two articles from their contract. Bruce Jordan of the Michigan Education Association, who is acting as the union’s change agent, said those articles had already been agreed upon when the district proposed removing them. 

The teachers’ contract expired in July 2020 and the union is currently on an extended contract until a settlement is reached. Negotiations have been ongoing since March 2020. 

The articles in question concern the safety of teachers in their working conditions, Jordan said. 

Chief negotiator for Flint schools, Attorney Timothy Gardner, proposed to remove language that states teachers are not required to work in hazardous or unsafe working environments, Jordan said. 

“They want to take that out, but it’s boilerplate language. It’s in nearly every teaching contract in the whole state,” Jordan said. “You want teachers to work in unsafe and hazardous conditions? Well, doesn’t that mean that kids are going to be learning in those conditions, too?”

Gardner told Flint Beat he had “no comment” at this time regarding the pending litigation. 

Union President Karen Christian said teachers also took issue with the district’s proposal to remove language about having the choice to remove a student from their classroom if the student assaults them. 

“It’s in (the contract) now, that if a teacher gets assaulted and if the child is not expelled that the child will be removed, or if the child can’t be removed because of certain circumstances that we would meet and figure out how we can solve the problem. But they want to remove that completely from the contract,” Christian said. 

Additionally, the union has been unable to negotiate preparation time for elementary school teachers.   

“Right now, because we are virtual, we have planning throughout the day, but when we come back face-to-face, there is no planning for elementary teachers right now. … So, there’s a possibility that elementary teachers will have to work longer hours to fulfill planning time if they want it in the school day,” Christian said. 

Assistant Superintendent Kevelin Jones told Flint Beat the district is unable to comment on the lawsuit. 

“The Flint Community Schools district is committed to the well-being of scholars and staff, and we deeply value the efforts of the highly-skilled educators who serve our district every day. Due to board policy, we are unable to comment on pending litigation,” Jones said. 

Gardner was brought on to represent Flint schools in May 2021 after the district’s former negotiator Cassandra Washington, who also served as the FCS’ director of human resources, resigned.

Since Washington’s leave, the district has been “engaging in surface bargaining, lacking an open-minded attitude and a sincere desire to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement,” according to the lawsuit.

“Ninety percent of the issues we had when it came to filing the unfair labor practice was bad faith bargaining and taking teacher protections out of the contract that have been in the contract for decades,” Jordan said, adding that negotiations concerning financials haven’t begun yet.  

Christian and Jordan said the district hasn’t “prioritized” bargaining over the past year and has made “excuses” for scheduling conflicts. 

Christian also said the district hasn’t allowed enough time for bargaining or negotiations. 

“If you do come to the table, you get one hour. You can’t bargain anything in one hour. A real bargaining session sometimes lasts between two to five, six hours,” Christian said. 

In past years, the union has negotiated a one-year contract, but Christian said they are currently bargaining for a multi-year contract. 

“We’re tired of one-years, we want a several-year contract now. We’re tired of coming back to the table every year and then getting the same excuses every single year. We don’t want to hear the gloom and doom anymore. We want to get this settled and done,” Christian said. 

Jordan said if the district doesn’t settle, a hearing will be scheduled in a few months, adding that he’s “hopeful” a settlement will be reached. 

The litigation will not affect students, he said. 

“Let’s get back to the table and get this done,” Christian said. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...