Utica teachers rally in struggle against school district over pay

Utica teachers say they've made a number of sacrifices but no more.

Now it's the district's turn and it's not just rhetoric - last week the teachers’ union voted to take the gloves off in labor fight.

"My membership voted 96.3 percent to authorize our bargaining team to engage in crisis activity up to and including job action," said Liza Parkinson, UEA president. "Which is a very serious, very serious step to take."

All of which means the Utica Education Association could authorize a strike or sickout. Hundreds of teachers rallied for a new contract in inches of snow Monday. The weather, like their relationship with the district, is cold or icy.

"Our teachers are also fed up they want to have a voice in their classrooms," Parkinson said. "They want to have autonomy; they want to be great advocates for children."

Parkinson heads up the UEA and its 1,400 members. She says teachers have been without a contract since June 30 and wages are frozen, forcing some teachers to work two jobs. 

Others, Parkinson claims, have left the district all together after years of concessions. 

"They have sacrificed $65 million dollars over the past nine years. Utica Community Schools have been restored in state funding and we believe it's time to restore teachers back to their placement on the salary schedule," Parkinson said.

"It takes our school district $1.5 million to operate every day," said Tim McAvoy. “We’re Michigan's second-largest school district, so our commitment is to provide a long rage stability for both our students and our staff."

McAvoy, spokesman for Utica Community Schools, says even with the frozen wages their teachers are still among the highest-paid in the state.

"We have ongoing negotiations and again we are active and we are going to respect that process," he said.

Educators from surrounding communities stood in solidarity with the UEA Monday, as well as Congressman Andy Levin.
"All across this country we have a crisis because teachers are not being paid properly here in Michigan," Levin said.

And if the teacher's union authorizes a strike or sickout it will be the first for Utica schools. The union says that is the last resort their goal is a contract.