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The Lecturers’ Employee Organization was joined by members of other campus labor organizations in displays of solidarity in a march outside of University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s house Saturday afternoon. The protest aimed to assert LEO’s demands for their new contract in this current bargaining period which ends when the current contract expires on April 20.  

About 70 people attended LEO’s first in-person demonstration this semester. LEO hosted weekly virtual bargaining sessions beginning in January, which were closed to the public, and one public virtual bargaining session.

“Austerity has got to go,” was one of the protesters’ recurring chants of the afternoon — “austerity” referring to strict fiscal policies like budget cuts and salary freezes in times of economic crisis. Several campus community members, including members of LEO, have criticized the University for overusing these fiscal strategies during the pandemic, instead of tapping into surplus funds or the $12 billion dollar endowment with a proportion of discretionary funds. The University currently spends no more than about 4.5% of its endowment each year. 

In the ongoing contract negotiations, LEO’s demands include salary increases across the University’s three campuses, longevity raises and a reversal of the University’s controversial felony disclosure policy before the current contract expires. 

LEO President Ian Robinson, a lecturer at the U-M Ann Arbor campus, marched down South University Avenue with his fellow protesters Saturday, wielding yard signs that read “#Invest in Students #Invest in Lecs.

According to Robinson, Friday’s closed bargaining session featured a “very bad” salary proposal from the University and “very little” in the way of allocating greater funding toward the Flint and Dearborn campuses —  a demand frequently echoed by the One University Campaign.

“This (protest) is a way now of demonstrating that we’re very unhappy with how far things are gone,” Robinson said. “We were told when we began bargaining that … the administration was very serious about getting our contract settled before it expires … but so far, what they’ve been doing at the table doesn’t suggest that they’re serious at all.”

In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the most recent counter-proposal offered by LEO is about eight times the cost of their previous contract, the largest yet in LEO history. He said despite efforts to be more fiscally conservative in the next year, since the University is still recovering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they have made fair and reasonable proposals.

“The university still made significant movement regarding salary, offering increases in the minimums for lecturers on the Flint and Dearborn campuses, increases for existing lecturers in every year of the contract, as well as new increases for long-serving lecturers,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The University has not dismissed any LEO salary requests and has not asked them to take a zero increase in any portion of their salary requests despite the fact that all LEO members received a 3% salary increase last fall when many university employees received nothing.”

A key part of LEO’s platform involves pay parity and increased funding to the University’s campuses in Dearborn and Flint. U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn received approximately $23 and $26 million in state appropriations for fiscal year 2020, significantly less than Ann Arbor’s $322 million. LEO’s proposal would increase salaries from $51,000 to $60,000 for lecturers on all three campuses, with an increase of $1,200 each year after 2022 and 2023.  

Rachel Petrak, LEO member and sociology lecturer on the U-M Flint campus, said greater equity across the University’s campuses, both regarding pay and in other areas of funding, is her biggest hope for this bargaining period. As a part of the University community for over a decade, Petrak said many of LEO’s demands feel overdue, especially when considering their implications for students.

“When you invest in teachers, you invest in the students,” Petrak said. “When teachers are living under poverty conditions, it’s not good for students. But that’s been the frank reality in Flint.”

Fitzgerald said the University has no obligation to bargain with LEO on the allocation of funds that aren’t related to lecturers’ contracts.

“LEO’s demand for additional funding for the Flint and Dearborn campuses is not a subject of collective bargaining under the LEO contract,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The LEO proposal makes demands for the use of these funds for several items that do not have a direct tie to the wages, hours, or working conditions of LEO bargaining unit members.”

Also included in LEO’s bargaining platform are childcare subsidies, which Robinson said were crossed out entirely in the University’s bargaining points Friday. Jason Sprague, a lecturer on the U-M Dearborn campus, told The Daily he’s given testimonials at past bargaining sessions regarding his own experience contending with the demands of parenting and his workload as a lecturer. The subsidies are a top priority because of these demands, Sprague said.  

“I wasn’t able to attend (bargaining) yesterday, and one of the main reasons I wasn’t able to attend yesterday is I look after my son full time, who’s 18 months,” Sprague said. “So I can really only get work done or attend Zoom meetings when he’s napping … which is one of the main concerns I’ve had with bargaining.”

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, another prominent labor group on campus, has successfully bargained for these subsidies in their previous bargaining period. In their concessions following GEO’s strike last fall, the University changed the childcare policy to increase the age limit to qualify for childcare funds to 15 and allocate an additional $500,000 to unlicensed care. Robinson said LEO’s platform is based on GEO’s language.

Fitzgerald said LEO’s bargaining team has requested $2,940 per child over the age of six for each term of a lecturer’s employment, but added that GEO’s childcare benefits are covered by the Office of Financial Aid, making them different from LEO’s. 

“Childcare for GEO is a student benefit that is facilitated by the Office of Financial Aid and is supported under the Financial Aid budget,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The university bargaining team emphasized that we have several existing programs for our employees that offer subsidized childcare based on economic needs. This includes grants to cover the cost of tuition at our Childcare Centers, free access to Care.com and subsidized rates to access Kids Kare at Home.”

Several GEO members participated in LEO’s protest Saturday, including GEO President Sumeet Patwardhan. He said the two labor organizations share many goals.

“Improving the conditions of labor for any employee unit on campus strengthens campus labor as a whole,” Patwardhan said.

Members of the United Physicians Assistants of Michigan Medicine, a more recently-formed union, also marched with LEO Saturday. As a newer union entering negotiations with the University for the first time, UPAMM President Jill Hasen emphasized the role LEO has played in inspiring and supporting their own organizing efforts.

“This is the first time a lot of us have participated in anything like this,” Hasen said. “Since we organized a union, LEO, GEO, the House Officers Association, the nursing union, the Trades Union, everyone has been so supportive of us … So when we found out LEO was having an action event today … we decided it would show great solidarity if we could come out.”

From outside of Schlissel’s house, the protesters marched to the Diag, where they temporarily planted their signs across the lawn. In closing remarks before encouraging protesters to take home signs and plant them in their own lawns, Craig Regester, an adjunct lecturer on the U-M Ann Arbor campus, said the protest “speaks to the power of what a union is.”

“We’re not just thinking about our own paycheck,” Regester said. “We’re thinking about other people. We’re thinking about students.”

LEO’s next open bargaining session is Friday, April 16. It will be the last session before the end of the semester, when lecturers’ contracts are set to expire.

Daily Staff Reporter Julianna Morano can be reached at jucomora@umich.edu.