Teachers approve historic contract

Photo by David Mustonen

Christine Sipperly (right), president of the Dearborn Federation of Teachers, announces during a press conference Tuesday at Stout Middle School that teachers for the first time will be able to choose their own benefits as part of a new contract which has been approved by the union.

Pact allows teachers to choose own health care plans

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – A new contract between Dearborn Public Schools and the Dearborn Federation of Teachers marks a first for both sides.

At a press conference Tuesday at Stout Middle School, officials from both sides announced an agreement that for the first time includes the ability for teachers to pick their own health care plans, while also capping benefit costs.

The contract was approved Monday following 25 months of difficult negotiations at times.

“This is … a historic day for Dearborn Public Schools, the Dearborn Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers, and most importantly, our students,” Stout Principal Julia Maconochie said.

The contract will go before the Board of Education for a final vote at its regular meeting Monday. The agreement, which is effective retroactive to July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2013, was given the green light by a vote of 877-84.

Dearborn Federation of Teachers President Christine Sipperly said the new agreement was “historic and precedent-setting,” and will be managed by the Michigan State AFL-CIO Public Employee Trust, which is a trust fund for employees in Michigan providing insurance benefits.

“The trust’s unique offering allows the district to focus on education and takes it out of the teacher’s benefit’s business,” Sipperly said. She added that the teachers’ morale dropped due to a lack of a contract for two years.

“But now it’s done, and there’s a lot of good things in the contract, especially the health care program,” she said.

“It is something I don’t think you’ve seen anywhere else in the country, let alone Michigan,” Supt. Brian Whiston said. He added that if those agreements had not been reached, “devastating” cuts would have been needed to take care of a $22 million deficit, including eliminating sports, busing and about 300 teachers.

“I feel we have demonstrated how two organizations can successfully use the collective bargaining system,” Whiston said. “The leadership of the DFT developed a creative approach to meeting the needs of their members, while at the same time understanding the need for fiscal responsibility and a long-term solution that offers structural changes to the district, as opposed to one-time short fixes.”

Timothy Spink, the AFL-CIO’s planned administrator for the trust, said the health care component and the elements that led up to it were put in place years before, when the Health Care Advocate program was enacted. The program requires one member from a local teacher’s union to attend training.

“When they come back to the local,” Spink said, “they serve as a point person on health care and insurance issues within the local union. They educate members, they assist with questions and they support the bargaining team during negotiations.”

He said teachers would pay a fixed cost, and the trust and the union would purchase the health care plan, which makes it unique.

“It’s the opposite of what you would normally think of,” Spink said. “This time we said, ‘Just put a dollar sign on it,’ and then the union and the trust fund together will go purchase the plan that makes the most sense.”

At that point, he said, it is difficult to tell how much money will be saved.

Spink said the alternatives were ominous, and that the district was ready to impose more restrictive controls on health care before the trust and the union agreed to take charge.

“That means all of us can focus our resources and time on our students,” Sipperly said.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)