Detroit teachers beat back injunction against sick-out actions

WW photo: Martha GrevattJan. 25 — Teachers in the Detroit Public Schools scored a major legal victory today when, for the second time, Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Michigan Court of Claims, a division of the Court of Appeals, denied DPS’s request for a temporary restraining order to force teachers to stop their sick-outs over deplorable and unsafe working conditions. Stephens on Jan. 21 denied DPS’s motion for an injunction against the teachers and ordered today’s hearing.

Stephens said there is no proof that the union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, or its interim president instigated the sick-outs. Under Michigan law it is illegal for public school teachers to strike.

The Operating Engineers union also won a victory in a separate court hearing today when Wayne County Judge David Allen ruled DPS could not cut costs by having 15 instead of 75 licensed boiler operators, or one per five schools. Allen cited the lead water crisis in Flint and wrote, “[W]hen we place financial expediency over basic and critical public health needs, we reap what we sow. … Let us not have the next headline to go national be: ‘Detroit Schoolchildren Injured and Killed in Unattended Boiler Explosion.’”

The DPS, led by emergency manager Darnell Earley, infamous for the Flint water poisoning scandal, filed suit Jan. 21 against more than two dozen defendants, including individual teachers, various community groups, the union, DFT interim president Ivy Bailey and ousted president Steve Conn.

The previous day, Jan. 20, President Barack Obama visited the North American International Auto Show in Detroit while 500 teachers and Flint protesters amassed outside Cobo Hall in bitterly cold weather. The president’s visit coincided with a coordinated sick-out by DPS teachers that closed 88 of the district’s schools — virtually all of them.

Hundreds of teachers, parents, students and community supporters rallied outside Cadillac Place, site of the Court of Appeals, as today’s hearing took place inside. In a display of unity, about three dozen teachers, wearing red, packed the courtroom.

Stephens ordered another hearing on Feb. 16 and instructed both sides to submit briefs and witness lists.

DPS teachers have engaged in rolling sick-outs for several months to bring attention to wretched conditions, including overcrowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, 50-degree indoor temperatures, rodent infestations, bathroom plumbing leaks, cuts in pay and benefits, lack of supplies, and widespread black mold, fungi and other toxins.