Ferris State accused of unfair labor practices after turning down their own contract offer

The Ferris Faculty Association has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission asserting the university’s Board of Trustees violated state labor law when it recently failed to pass a five-year contract.

With the current contract set to expire June 30, the union began negotiations in good faith with the administration on a new five-year contract. Representatives of the university board and the union reached a tentative agreement, which was ratified by 96 percent of the faculty. However, on Feb. 22, the university board unanimously rejected the contract, despite the fact that the agreement was exactly what the university proposed to its employees.

Under state labor law, the representatives of either party who negotiate an agreement must support that agreement when it is put up for ratification. By unanimously rejecting it, the board clearly violated that law.

In a letter to faculty and staff, Ferris State University President David Eisler wrote the contract extension “could have been a good thing for our university.”

However, the board capitulated to political attacks coming out of Lansing regarding the negotiation of contracts prior to the implementation of so-called “right-to-work” laws on March 28.  Those attacks have included being called before McCarthy-style committee hearings in Lansing about these agreements and threats of funding cuts for schools or universities who enter into contracts with employees prior to that date.

“A number of lawmakers were quoted in the media as favoring reduced funding or other sanctions of some kind for universities that signed contracts or agreements delaying the impact of ‘Right to Work,’” Eisler wrote in his letter. “When these discussions began, I saw the possibility of reaching a five-year agreement providing good terms, consistency, and predictability for faculty. Unfortunately, because of the political developments we were unable to extend the union security clause.”

The union, an affiliate of the MEA and NEA, is also seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in Mecosta County Circuit Court to enjoin the board’s illegal activity until the commission is able to address the grievance.

“Faculty and staff at Ferris State, along with universities and schools across Michigan, have the legal right to negotiate their contracts,” said MEA President Steve Cook. “For the Ferris State board to reject a contract they proposed, especially in light of President Eisler’s own comments that it would be good for the university, is disturbing — especially because it is in response to intimidation from some legislators.

State House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, called on House Republicans to end the extreme and over-the-top rhetoric and “big government rhetoric” coming from committee chairs on employer-employee contracts.

“Republican committee chairs need to end this relentless and absurd investigation of school employees, university presidents and local governments over negotiation of personnel contracts,” Greimel said. “Not only is it interfering in the local and autonomous units of government and their relations with employees, but is also costing taxpayers’ money.”

“When Lansing lawmakers, through thinly veiled threats and intimidation, interfere with contract negotiations, it's time for everyone to pause and consider the consequences of loose talk and heavy-handed tactics,” Greimel said.

Cook said: “Republicans in Lansing should be ashamed of what their rhetoric is doing, not only to hard-working school employees, but to the management of school districts being overtly threatened by elected lawmakers. I call on them to end their bullying and witch hunts, and get out of the way of legal attempts by employees and school administrators to bargain in good faith.”