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On Friday, the expiration date of the University of Michigan’s previous contract with the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, representatives met with the University’s administration for two bargaining sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to continue negotiating their new contract. Between sessions, LEO members, faculty and students gathered by the Fletcher Administration Building for an outdoor event, dubbed the #RespectTheLecs Block Party, to enjoy lunch and commemorate several months of difficult mediation between LEO and the University.
LEO President Ian Robinson, who came to the block party after attending the first negotiation at Palmer Commons, said the event was LEO’s way of thanking its base of allies, which is comprised of tenure-track faculty, nurses and students.
“It’s an opportunity for us to thank students, who have played a really critical role this campaign,” Robinson said. “We want to be able to buy some food for you guys and say thank you and celebrate.”
Robinson also hopes the block party showed University administrators that LEO is still actively and enthusiastically fighting for change.
“[It’s] just another way of letting the administration know that we’ve made some progress but we’re not where we need to be yet,” Robinson said.
Since the beginning of the academic year, LEO, which represents almost 1,700 non-tenured lecturers from the University’s three campuses, has been pushing for significant raises in minimum starting salary, claiming that lecturers’ wages often don’t cover basic costs of living. Currently, the minimum salary is $34,500 in Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. LEO hopes to raise those amounts to $60,000 in Ann Arbor and $56,000 at the other two campuses, with equity adjustments and annual increases. The organization reports that the University makes $377 million more off non-tenured faculty than it pays them each academic year.
Although the current LEO contract expired on Friday, April 20, negotiations are far from over. Ann Arbor lecturers called off a walkout scheduled for April 9 and 10 after the administration agreed to continue bargaining. Friday morning, representatives talked about annual raises and longevity pay, and the discussion is expected to continue into the summer.
Sarah Rovang, a lecturer in the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, said she attended the block party because LEO needs to demonstrate its continued dedication to the cause.
“Since we called off the strike, I think it’s really important to maintain a presence in the University,” Rovang said. “Even as we’re going into finals, the energy around this movement is still really high and we still have a lot of momentum.”
University Provost Martin Philbert was invited to attend the block party, but declined, citing a prior engagement. Attendees wrote notes to Philbert and attached them to plush “carrier pigeons,” which would later be hand-delivered to his office. LEO representatives say Philbert responded dismissively earlier this month when activists brought him handwritten notes from concerned University students. The organization hopes the stuffed animals will attract Philbert’s attention.
Melanie Manos, who has been lecturing at the Stamps School of Art and Design for a decade, described the University’s slow response to lecturers’ demands as “incredibly frustrating” and “demoralizing.”
“It’s really upsetting that President Schlissel and Provost Philbert just are not on board yet,” Manos said. “They just seem to think that it’s a non-issue, and it’s disrespectful.”
According to Manos, LEO’s demands are reasonable, but the administration has been reluctant to make any major modifications to the lecturers’ contract.
“We’ve been negotiating for a fair contract— it’s long overdue — and the University’s been basically stalling and keeping our numbers very low,” Manos said. “What we’re asking for is a very fair thing. It’s not dipping into taxpayer money, it wouldn’t raise tuition, so we’re going to keep fighting.”
After the block party, some LEO members returned to negotiations at Palmer Commons. Other people moved indoors, occupying the Administration Building.
Rackham student Emily Gauld, the incoming president of the Graduate Employees Organization, believes it’s important for both students and faculty to continue pushing for lecturers’ rights.
“Their fight is our fight and their win is our win,” Gauld said. “I respect what they do immensely, they are my colleagues and friends for the most part, and the University needs to respect the work that they do.”