By Tom Tolen /

The bargaining committee for the Brighton Education Association walked out of a bargaining session with the Brighton Board of Education negotiating team Wednesday afternoon when it became apparent to them that no progress was being made toward agreement on a contract salary reopener.

The BEA represents about 325 Brighton teachers at the bargaining table. The two sides have been at odds over the wage aspect of their three-year contract, which is subject to an annual reopener. The teachers received a 2.3% salary increase last year, the first year of their contract, when combined with completion of a professional development course. However, since talks began this year on the second year salary reopener, district bargainers have played hardball, demanding that the teachers take a pay cut.

BEA President Barry Goode says the district’s response to the teachers’ position is that although it is in good shape financially right now, nobody knows what the future might bring. He says the district has somewhat modified its earlier stance, but its latest offer still amounts to a pay cut. Goode maintains it doesn’t make sense, when considering the fact that the district has a $7.9 million fund balance and about $9 million in savings overall. Goode says the teachers are willing to play ball and make concessions when times get tough, such as the substantial, 7% pay cut they voluntarily took in 2008 when the “Great Recession” hit. However, he says in his words, “Once we were out of deficit, we were given a pay raise.” But Goode says this time around there is no financial crisis. He says, again quoting, “We’re not asking for the moon.”

Goode says the teachers are considering several options if things don’t improve — one of which would be a strike — which would be illegal. Such work stoppages by public employees are illegal under Michigan law. However, he hopes it doesn’t come to that, and the teachers are offered a “fair” wage increase. He adds he is also considering filing a complaint with the state charging the district with unfair labor practices.

Board President Andy Burchfield said Wednesday night he couldn’t comment on the current state of negotiations because he hadn’t yet been briefed on Wednesday’s meeting with the BEA. No new talks are scheduled at this time.