Three unions that represent employees in the Detroit Public Schools system filed a federal lawsuit over a 10% pay cut and new requirement that employees pay 20% of their health care costs.

The cuts, announced last week by the district’s emergency manager, modify current union contracts, which is allowed because DPS is under state-ordered emergency financial management.

The cuts will save the cash-strapped district $81 million, according to state-appointed emergency manager Roy Roberts.

It’s the first time that the new Michigan state law has been used to modify school contracts.

The 15-page lawsuit is one of what could be several fighting the emergency management law, which gives the state broader powers, including the ability to modify or terminate existing union contracts.

 “The emergency manager’s decision is a push for universal and complete control of our schools,” Ruby Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, said in a statement. “We cannot just stand there and take it. We will fight this law any way that we can.”

The Detroit Federation of Teachers, the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees, and the Detroit Federation of Paraprofessionals — all affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers — filed the lawsuit in U.S. District court in Detroit.

The lawsuit named Roberts, who two weeks ago ordered the cuts as part of the 2012 budget, and state Treasurer Andy Dillon, who approved them.

There are eight unions that represent the district’s 10,000 employees.

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