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After receiving what members called an “insulting” response to their salary proposal from the University of Michigan Monday night, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization held a press conference at the Michigan Union prior to the University Board of Regents meeting Thursday. Lecturers and allies addressed the board and University President Mark Schlissel directly, emphasizing the union’s core demands, which include higher wages, enhanced job security and improved benefits.
More than 75 people, including lecturers, allies, students and members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization gathered in support of LEO, many with signs, buttons and T-shirts. The press conference featured lecturers from the School of Social Work and University of Michigan-Dearborn, as well as LEO President Ian Robinson and Heather Ann Thompson, professor of Afroamerican and African Studies.
Robinson, a sociology lecturer, expressed worry at the meeting that in light of the University’s “shockingly low” offer, the union may not be able to conclude negotiations before its current contract ends on April 20.
“We are not going to get to a contract by our goal of early April unless the administration rethinks the role that we play and the respect that we deserve and makes a much bigger offer in response to our demands,” Robinson said.
LEO, which represents nearly 1,700 non-tenure track faculty members across all three University campuses, has been bargaining for a new contract with the University since last semester. Right now, the minimum salary for a full-time lecturer is $34,500 at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint.
In its counterproposal, the University offered a $1,000 increase to the starting salary in 2019, $750 in 2020 and $500 in 2021. The deal also included a 1.5 percent annual raise for lecturers in Ann Arbor, but not those in Dearborn or Flint.
Though the Academic Human Resources Office handles the collective bargaining process, LEO decided to make its case before the board as well, who, according to the Michigan Constitution of 1963, have “general supervision” of the University and “the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution’s funds.” In an interview with The Daily earlier this month, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the administration was working toward securing “a contract that is economically fair to the lecturers and fiscally responsible for the University.”
“The University has approached and prepared for this round of negotiations very much in the same way it has with the other LEO negotiations since 2004,” he said, referring to the first contract the University signed with the union. “This includes many hours and levels of internal consultation with leaders at UM-Dearborn, UM-Flint and across the schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor.”
According to Robinson, LEO’s first contract, which improved internal procedures for handling employee dismissal and raised the minimum salary for entry-level lecturers, was “a quantum leap.”
“It was a major change compared to where we had been before, not only in terms of wages and salary, but also in terms of job security,” he said. “However, after that first contract, I would say the University pushed back hard and it became difficult for us to make much headway.”
At the board meeting, LEO members looked to make up lost ground, sharing their perspectives on the ongoing bargaining process and protesting what they said are stagnating wages, while allies and students expressed solidarity. Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, read a statement signed by the student body presidents from each of the University campuses.
“Lecturers deserve to be paid a fair living wage, commensurate with their experience and the revenue lecturers generate for the University of Michigan, job security and health care coverage,” Sarkar said.
In 2016, lecturers accounted for $462 million in tuition revenue, based on number of credit hours taught, while the University spent $85 million on their salaries and benefits. Lecturers argued the $377 million surplus should be used to meet the demands central to their bargaining platform.
Unlike LEO members, Thompson is tenure-track faculty and currently a Visiting Scholar in the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, but she said it was important to her to return to Ann Arbor to speak on LEO’s behalf before the board.
“I think one of the things you’ll hear from the University administration is that they’re paying what the market will bear,” she said. “That is, we should hire lecturers at the lowest price we can get away with and treat them as a casual and indeed replaceable academic labor force. In my opinion, this is no way to run a great university — to run any university.”
The board did not offer any response to the testimony offered by LEO members and their supporters during the meeting.