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Latest News - November 2014

November 21, 2014
MEA, GRCC union file unfair labor practice charge against college
Brian McVicar

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - A dispute between members of Grand Rapids Community College’s clerical workers union about whether to maintain ties with the Michigan Education Association has resulted in an unfair labor practice charge against the college.Some members of GRCC’s Educational Support Professionals have initiated steps to break away from the union and form a new union group, known as the Alliance of Professional Support Staff. They want to break ties with the MEA because they feel the union’s dues are too high, one group member said.

But ESP members who support sticking with the MEA say college administrators committed an unfair labor practice by entering into “unlawful negotiations with a rival independent union” before that union was determined to be the “elected representative of the affected employees.”The original union group, along with the MEA, filed the unfair labor practice charge on Sept. 18. Mediation in the dispute is scheduled for next month.

ESP, which represents about 100 clerical employees across the college, underwent a leadership change in April. Former President Deb Stout stepped down, and was replaced by Amy Robinson. Stout said she supports maintaining ties with the MEA, while Robinson said she’s “not out advocating one way or the other.”A petition to create the GRCC Alliance of Professional Support Staff was filed with the state of Michigan on Aug. 22. The petition was signed by college employee Jennifer Kelly. Kelly could not be reached for comment.

A state spokesman confirmed that 30 percent or more of ESP’s 100 members signed the petition, as required by state law.The unfair labor practice charge leveled against GRCC includes several allegations of wrongdoing.It says the college violated the Public Employees Relations Act by agreeing to “terms and conditions of employment with a rival independent union,” despite the fact that the rival group was not designated to enter into bargaining.

It also accused the college of providing “unlawful assistance to a decertification campaign and petition by allowing campaigning employees during working hours and circulation of the petition and campaign materials through the use of employer email and ‘blackboard’ systems.”GRCC declined to make college attorney Kathy Keating available for comment.

In a prepared statement, college spokeswoman Leah Nixon said a “voluntary mediation in which all parties agreed to participate has been scheduled for Dec. 2.”“We are confident that this will be a productive discussion moving us toward a resolution that addresses the outlined concerns,” the statement said. “Should the participating parties not come to an agreement through mediation, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission will schedule a time – probably in January – to hear the concerns and come to a resolution.”

Robinson, who is new to the rules of collective bargaining, acknowledges missteps were made while some ESP members looked into creating the Alliance of Professional Support Staff. But the mistakes weren’t done with ill intentions; members simply wanted the opportunity to vote on whether or not to stay with the MEA, she said.“I feel that we are competent to make decisions for ourselves, but I think that we have to come together as a group,” Robinson said. “I think that the MEA definitely performs a service, and we need them, but I think we should be the ones to determine if we’re going to maintain this relationship.”

Stout, who stepped down in April as president of ESP, said if some ESP members want to decertify, it should be done in accordance with procedures laid out in state law.She also said the petition to decertify ESP and create the Alliance of Professional Support Staff was not shared with “most” ESP members.“There (are) an awful lot of members that do not want to decertify,” Stout said. “And so there’s a great divide among our membership right now.”Stout estimated that she pays about $32 per pay period in MEA union dues. She says the MEA brings an “amazing amount of resources and experience” to the bargaining table.

A local MEA official who works with ESP could not be reached for comment.



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