Judge orders Ferris State board to explain why it voted against its own contract proposal

 

BIG RAPIDS, Mich., March 21, 2013 — A state administrative law judge has ordered the Ferris State University Board of Trustees to explain why it voted to reject its own contract proposal with the Ferris Faculty Association, which represents employees at the university.

Administrative Law Judge Doyle O’Connor has given Ferris State’s Board of Trustees until noon on Tuesday to respond.

With the current contract set to expire June 30, the union in December began negotiations with the administration on a new five-year contract. Representatives of the Board of Trustees and the Ferris Faculty Association reached a tentative agreement, which was ratified by a 96 percent affirmative vote.

In a dramatic and legally indefensible turn of events, the university board unanimously rejected the contract on Feb. 22, despite the fact that the agreement was exactly what the university proposed to its employees. The Ferris Faculty Association, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association and the National Education Association, responded by filing an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. According to the unfair labor practice charge, the Board of Trustees violated state labor law, which requires representatives of either party who negotiate an agreement to support that agreement when it is put up for ratification.

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.”

In his order to the Ferris State Board of Trustees, O’Connor wrote: “Here, it appears that a contract was offered and accepted, and then one party sought to extricate itself from the deal, seemingly as a result of understandable, but not legally cognizable, concern over outside threats of political retribution.”

Read O’Connor’s order.

Related to this unfair labor practice charge, Mecosta County Circuit Judge Ronald C. Nichols held a hearing Wednesday regarding the Ferris faculty's request for an injunction ordering the university to honor the contract until MERC acts.  Nichols is expected to issue a ruling next week.

Contact: Doug Pratt, MEA Director of Public Affairs, 517-337-5566