2007-07-05 / Front Page

Strike?

State to rule on absences
By Cheryl Holladay

There was little reaction by Houghton Lake Community Schools teachers Thursday as the Board of Education decided to take several in their ranks to task for not showing up for work May 3.

There was no outcry while Houghton Lake Community Schools Superintendent Pete Injasoulian read his recommendation to board members at its June 29 special meeting to approve a resolution to file a strike notice with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. Some of the teachers did confer with each other outside the board office following the meeting, and a few were visibly upset.

The resolution also imposes a "fine of one day of pay for each full or partial day engaged in the strike upon each teacher found to have participated in an illegal strike on May 3, 2007..." It was on that day 20 of Collins Elementary School's 29 1/2 teachers were absent. The large amount of absences prompted the board to authorize Injasoulian to investigate whether action needed to be taken against the teachers involved.

Of the 26 teachers interviewed about the absences, 24 were to be notified of the filing of a strike notice with the MERC in accordance with the Public Employment Relations Act.

Of those to be notified, 19 are Collins Elementary teachers, one is a middle school teacher and four are high school teachers: Collins Elementary- Sharon Glaser, Amy Koupal, Lizabeth Kraft, Julie Krause, Anjanette Rusmisel, Diane Rustad, Linda Smyk, Jill Songer, Lori Warson, Kim Bristol, Susan Fitrzyk, Mary Fullmer, Deborah Markiewicz, Patricia Rzycki, Michelle Swanson, Sally Szewczyk, Paula Youngberg, Debra Manninen and Sherilee Salyers; middle school- Helen Wiggins; and high school- Arnold Krause, Thomas Blanchard, Patricia Caswell and Jenny VanDuinen.

"It's certainly not a fun thing to do," Injasoulian told the Resorter. "I'm very concerned about our employees. I care about them a great deal."

He said, however, that it is now up to a MERC administrative law judge to decide whether a strike occurred.

"I'm not a judge," he said. "The judge is going to have to make the ruling."

Injasoulian's investigation took about one month and concluded June 11. Teachers who were interviewed were allowed a union representative to be present. Injasoulian told the Resorter teachers who were absent May 3 were asked one set of questions, while teachers who were present that day were asked a separate set of questions. (See "Teachers questioned on absences")

Board members were told June 25 by George Johnson, an attorney with the district's law firm, they had three actions they could take, if Injasoulian recommended action be taken as a result of any misuse of teachers' sick leave. Johnson said the board may follow its own standard disciplinary procedures; discharge teachers or enforce discipline less than discharge; or file a "Notice of Strike" in accordance with the Public Employment Relations Act, invoking strike penalty law, resulting in a one-day loss of pay, the course of action they ended up approving.

Michigan Education Association Uniserve Director Wendy Heinig told the Resorter each accused teacher will be notified by the board and each is entitled to be treated individually by MERC. If found guilty, she said, a day's pay would be withheld from each teacher and forwarded to the general school fund of Michigan.

The location of the hearings has yet to be determined. MERC has 60 days after notices are filed to hear them.

Heinig said, however, that a "majority of people provided information on prearranged absences" for May 3. While she does not know the number of teachers who were originally docked a day's pay, she said some of the teachers on Injasoulian's MERC list were not among them.

The Houghton Lake school district is already scheduled for hearings before MERC on charges of unfair labor practice filed by both the district and the Houghton Lake Education Association; each party has filed charges against the other. Those hearings have been postponed to Sept. 10-11. The unfair labor practice hearings may or may not be heard by the same judge who presides over the teachers hearings.

Also approved at the June 29 meeting was the 2007-08 budget (see "Some sports funds in budget.")

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