An administrative law judge will consider accusations that Northwestern Michigan College froze its teachers’ pay as punishment for forming a union.
Judge Travis Calderwood denied a motion by the college to dismiss the case and said a two-day hearing with witnesses will be scheduled for October.
Faculty members and NMC have been bargaining over a first contract for more than a year. Teachers formed a union in March of 2015.
Teachers say they learned in January that they wouldn’t be given step increases this year. Those are annual pay increases based on seniority that have been in place for at NMC for the past 20 years.
Lawyers for NMC argued that the faculty union’s bargaining unit, the Michigan Education Association, waited too long to file the charge. Arguments on Monday focused on when the faculty should have known the increases were canceled.
Attorney Charles Oxender said faculty members were told repeatedly since April of 2015 that there would be no compensation increases this year until a contract was negotiated. Labor law requires a complaint be filed within six months.
“There are at least five examples where they were told there will be no changes in compensation,” said Oxender. “The number in the budget is zero. It’s not hidden. It’s very clear.”
MEA attorney Phil Iorio says the faculty was unaware that no changes meant the step increases would not be given. He noted the college did not produce one affidavit from anyone saying they knew before January that those increases had been canceled.
“There was no reason to expect that that association would have understood the step system would be frozen,” says Iorio.
Judge Calderwood says the college can make further arguments about whether the six-month statute of limitations applies, but he said so far he is not convinced the union was late filing the complaint.