Lecturer vote authorizes strike

BY ALISON GO
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 4, 2004

Nearly 90 percent of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization
voted yesterday in favor of authorizing a walkout on Thursday. The
walkout would also include members of the Graduate Employees’
Organization and students and professors who support the LEO
platform.

Members voted 331 to 43 to give the union’s bargaining
council the authority to walk out if the council deems it
necessary.

LEO, which serves 1,300 non-tenure-track faculty on the
University’s three campuses, plans to walk out Thursday
unless the University administration makes “sufficient
movement toward satisfying the goals of the strike platform,”
said LEO president Bonnie Halloran, a lecturer on the
University’s Dearborn campus.

Negotiations have been in progress since August 19. The
administration and LEO will return to the bargaining table today
and Wednesday. “There are fundamental issues the University
feels very strongly about,” University spokeswoman Julie
Peterson said. “But we are very concerned about the idea of
interrupting classes.”

Since the negotiations began, there have been 34 bargaining
sessions, including four extended sessions over the past week. The
teams have reached tentative agreement on 17 contract articles,
Provost Paul Courant said in an e-mail to deans, directors and
department chairs last Thursday. However, University administrators
and LEO said they have no definitive plans if the walkout does
occur.

LEO’s main demands involve wage compensation, health
benefits and job security.

Concerning wage compensation, the University has offered to set
the minimum full-time salary for LEO members at $28,000 in Ann
Arbor, $20,800 in Dearborn and $20,000 in Flint, Courant said. This
would cost the University about $300,000 annually.

According to LEO, this would be an additional $200 per person
per year, an offer the group says is not enough to meet its
demands.

“This is a basic embarrassment that that’s how much
they offer their faculty,” Halloran said. “That offer
is unacceptable. They have to make us a more reasonable offer on
salary.”

LEO’s platform on wages includes an increase in the base
salary rate, equal wage across campuses and annual cost-of-living
increases.

The union is asking for a minimum full-time salary rate of
$40,000 for lecturers at all three campuses, with an additional 5
percent increase in the minimum for each year of service. The cost
of LEO’s wage proposals would be over $12 million in fiscal
year 2005, Courant said.

Because they also are part of Michigan’s public school
system, Halloran said members of LEO deserve to be compensated
similarly to public high school teachers, whose minimum salary
hovers at $38,000 a year, Halloran said.

“Why are we being paid near the poverty level?”
Halloran asked. “We’re doing everything we’re
asked to do and more.” The average annual salary for an LEO
member on the Dearborn campus is $23,800. The 2003 poverty level
for a four-person household was approximately $18,400, according to
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Halloran also said many graduate student instructors are paid
more than lecturers on a per-course basis—for the same class,
a GSI could make $6,700 a term, while a lecturer could make $5,500
a term.

She attributes this discrepancy to the strides GEO has made in
its 30 years of existence. The Michigan Employment Relations
Commission approved LEO last April, while its constitution was
instated last month.

The progress on job security negotiations has been equally
unsatisfactory for LEO. “We spent eight weeks on job security
(during bargaining), and we’ve made insufficient
movement,” Halloran said. The negotiations have produced an
agreement on a tentative hiring arrangement based on seniority.

LEO wants to eliminate lecturers temporary-worker status and use
a hiring system based on clearer criteria. The union is asking that
members be appointed indefinitely after a probationary period, with
termination only for “cause.”

“This proposal would provide this one group of faculty
with a level of job security beyond that afforded most other
instructional employees of the University,” like those with
tenure, Courant said. “The union’s proposal would
represent a fundamental change in how the University appoints its
faculty.”

However, LEO believes the administration is exaggerating its
claim.“We do not want tenure. This is about workers who have
been taken advantage of for years,” Halloran said.

Most lecturers are hired per term or annually according to
variable student enrollment, budget and job openings. The
University has proposed that lecturers would be eligible for
multi-year contracts after four years of continuous service,
Courant said.

LEO’s third major demand is a more comprehensive health
benefits package. They want an “extension of health care
benefits to year-round coverage, at no additional cost to the
employee … (and) no erosion of benefits and no increase in
the cost of benefits,” the LEO website states.

The University has proposed to provide benefits over spring and
summer terms for returning instructors who have worked at least
half the courses of full-time employees. In the College of
Literature, Science and the Arts, a lecturer is deemed full-time
after teaching three courses per semester.

The administration worries that LEO’s benefits proposals
“would be significantly more generous than the benefits
offered to other faculty or employee groups,” Courant
said.

Along with GEO, activist groups like Students Organizing for
Labor and Economic Equality have been rallying support for LEO and
its platform.

“Students in SOLE are concerned that money given to
lecturers is directly related to how much the University cares
about our education,” said LSA junior and SOLE member Lauren
Heidtke.

SOLE has organized education sessions in classes and outreach
efforts. These include visits to classrooms, placement of banners,
chalking and flyering.