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The Lecturers’ Employee Organization at the University of Michigan hosted its first public bargaining session with the U-M administration on Friday. About 90 attendees — lecturers as well as students, parents, community members and other allies — heard updates from LEO staff and volunteers on the bargaining process and new tentative agreements between LEO and the University. 

LEO is the union for all non-tenure track faculty from the three U-M campuses. Formed in 2004, LEO has bargained for contracts with the University five times in the past in the years 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2018. The current contract is set to expire on May 20.

Since January, more than 300 LEO members have attended weekly bargaining sessions with the administration to make their demands, which include equal starting pay on all campuses, recognition in their formal job titles as “teaching professors,” fairer and transparent workloads and support for lecturer diversity. Additionally, LEO is also asking for support with child care, DEI-related initiatives and heightened job security.

LEO is also asking for University administration to allocate $15 million to both UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn campuses to help with improving base salaries for lecturers on those campuses, increasing course offerings and funding students to help increase recruitment, retention and graduation rates.

Jimmy Brancho, the Ann Arbor campus LEO co-chair, spoke about the advances made and discussions between the two parties and the new tentative agreement. 

“They’re moving a bit. We’re moving a bit,” Brancho said. “An area of the contract is squared away on pay advances where lecturers that are new to the University or becoming re-employed after a year can get their paycheck at the beginning of September rather than the end.” 

Contract sections related to COVID-19 were also discussed. Brancho explained LEO’s bargaining goals moving forward in the pandemic, saying the organization is presenting an extensive COVID-19 impact proposal which includes allowing lecturers to decide if they would like to teach in-person or remotely during the pandemic. The proposal also asks that while students are able to mask their grades, student evaluations are not used against lecturers during the virtual semesters as lecturers are unable to see how students did in their class.

An issue highlighted extensively in the public session had to do with the University’s felony disclosure proposal among employees. Brancho explained how this policy disproportionately and punitively impacts potential lecturers of color. 

“The felony disclosure proposal … says that if you have a felony charge or conviction that you are required to disclose it to the University,” Brancho said. “We see this pretty clearly as an extension of the carceral state and a proposal that directly works against diversity, equity and inclusion … we’ve flatly refused to accept this or attend to move on it at all.” 

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald commented on the status of negotiations in an email to The Daily on Friday.

“The University continues to bargain in good faith toward a new contract agreement,” Fitzgerald wrote. 

Andrew Thompson, a lecturer for the School of Art & Design, led a question and answer section for attendees. The Q and A portion covered definitions of terms such as standard practice guide and how it relates to collective bargaining agreements, as well as reaffirming the goals of collective bargaining. 

“(Standards practice guide), which is information that applies to all university employees, unless they have a collective bargaining agreement that says something different,” Thompson said. “This is what collective bargaining really is about … Not just having a policy foisted upon you as an individual with no power to resist, but to get together in a group of people … and take time to kind of think of a good counter proposal.” from other institutions also attended the event and voiced their support and opinions. Eastern Michigan University senior Rachele Cate was vocal about her support of community inclusion and union bargaining.

“It’s really important to let the community member allies be involved so that they know what the big university power next door is doing,” Cate said.

Brancho closed the lunch by explaining what the afternoon of bargaining would entail. He said they would mainly focus on LEO’s child care proposal and a leapfrogging counter proposal. Leapfrogging is when someone more recently hired makes more money than someone who has been at the University longer. 

A petitions to The Office of the Vice President of Student Life advocating for the inclusion of wellness breaks for staff on the Ann Arbor campus was shared by Reese Havlatka, a Student Life staff member at U-M Ann Arbor. Students this semester had two separate days off in the middle of the week in lieu of a weeklong spring break to prevent travel during the pandemic — which many have found largely not restful — but there are no designated break days for staff.

Additionally, Rackham student Sasha Bishop, a Climate Action Movement organizer, shared updates on the fossil fuel divestment work the Climate Action Movement has been doing. 

In February 2020, the University Board of Regents paused all future investments into fossil fuel holdings to review its investment policies after significant and prolonged campus activism, but they have been silent since on the issue. The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality recently released their final recommendations on how the University can achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, which CAM found insufficient for one because the report did not recommend and was not allowed to consider divestment.

“The regents are finally moving (towards divestment),” Bishop said. “We want to make sure that this divestment announcement is coupled with a reinvestment policy, so not just saying you take money out of the fossil fuel industry … but to actually really focus these funds on investing in kind of community benefit.” 

Public Policy senior Ben Gerstein, former Central Student Government president, said in an interview with The Daily he thought the public collective bargaining session helps include more people in important campus conversations. 

“I have really appreciated their contributions to a multitude of conversations we are having on campus, whether it be climate justice or steady pay and safe conditions for both our lecturers and graduate students,” Gerstein said. “I think it’s very powerful for students to see the power of labor unions to not just advocate for themselves but advocate for the communities they operate in collectively.”

Daily Staff Reporter Brendan Ulanch can be reached at brulanch@umich.edu.

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