The Lecturers’ Employee Organization held an open bargaining session in the Michigan League Friday. The session, which drew nearly 350 union members and allies, was the last open bargaining session before a potential strike planned for Monday and Tuesday of next week.
LEO, which represents nearly 1,700 non-tenure track faculty members across the University’s three campuses, has been negotiating with the University since last semester. The union’s bargaining platform calls for significant increases to minimum salaries for lecturers as well as improvements to the equity lecturers receive based on years of service.
LEO president Ian Robinson, a Sociology lecturer, said if the University made enough progress on these issues before Sunday, LEO’s bargaining team could take that as a sign of “good faith” from the University. Union leadership could then call off the strike.
According to Robinson, the University countered the equity piece of LEO’s salary proposal on Thursday with an offer that divides lecturers into groups based on their number of years at the University and focuses more on lump-sum increases for those groups.
The bargaining team spent the day in talks with the administration Friday negotiating the equity adjustment. LEO’s model aims to make salary increases equitable across the University’s campuses, as well as throughout lecturers’ time at the University. They have proposed a 1000 dollar increase to base salary for each year of service. Robinson said LEO’s proposed structure was more “egalitarian” than the University’s.
“Ours was quite gradual and graduated, so there weren’t any big bumps where if you happened to be just on the wrong side of it, it would make a big difference as to what you got paid,” Robinson told The Daily. “Theirs is very lumpy in that way.”
LEO came back with a counter-proposal for the University at the start of Friday’s bargaining, and while the parties spent the day going back and forth on conceptual matters, no additional counter-proposal was made by the University.
Two more closed bargaining sessions will occur throughout the weekend, but LEO has already begun rallying members and allies to strike on Monday and Tuesday. Elected Union Council members and those on the bargaining team will make the official judgement call later this weekend.
“We feel there has to be a big enough increase, big enough movement towards our demands, which we know the University is quite capable of meeting,” Robinson said. “If there’s a really good faith effort to move, then the leverage a strike provides is not really needed, and we can carry on and continue bargaining.”
Robinson said so far about 2,000 people have signed up for picket shifts. Despite the quick mobilization of their members and allies, Robinson thinks most members are hoping the University will make a good counter proposal so they won’t have to strike.
“If we believe we’re within that zone, then we will definitely not strike, because really, most of our members do not want to strike,” he said. “They’ve been worrying about it, they’ve been fretting about it… but they’ll be happy if we don’t have to do it, I feel.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald has previously said that the University and LEO will continue to bargain “in good faith” and remains “hopeful” a deal will be reached soon.
“A work stoppage or strike by LEO members has its biggest negative impact on students at a critical time near the end of the academic year,” he wrote in an email. “The university believes strongly that the collective bargaining process is effective and there is no need for LEO to call for a strike.”
Gary Downen, a professor in the electrical technology department at Washtenaw Community College, gave a presentation at the open bargaining session Friday addressing the salary disparities between lecturers on the University’s Ann Arbor campus and local community colleges. According to Downen, currently 53.4 percent of LEO members in Ann Arbor are paid less than the minimum starting salary at WCC, which is $57,491.
“Many of the LEO members in the audience were frankly shocked to realize how many of them were making significantly less than their counterparts at the community college,” he said. “When I started interacting with LEO on this issue my impression was that not even the LEO bargaining team fully comprehended the disparities.”
The minimum starting salary for a lecturer is $34,500 in Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. Downen said his comparison of the salaries at community colleges in southeastern Michigan and those lecturers receive from the University revealed “a significant disparity.”
Salary has been a particularly contentious point throughout bargaining, but Robinson said lecturers are also concerned about other issues, some of which are non-monetary.
During a telephone press conference last week, Marcus Darden, a lecturer in computer science, discussed LEO’s demand to change the working title of lecturers to “Teaching Professor.”
According to Darden, in engineering disciplines, many undergraduates choose to go to work after graduating instead of pursuing higher degrees, meaning the hiring pool for academic positions generally consists of older professionals who have already had careers in a given industry.
“Often times we end up getting people who have already made their way through the professional world,” he said. “They’ve worked for 20 or 30 years and then still want to give back by going back to teach, and those are the ones that we really are interested in.”
But he said the lecturer job title makes recruiting these people difficult.
“The challenge here though is letting them know where these positions exist,” Darden said. “They go look for a job, and a lot of times they don’t even find our posting because they’re listed as lecturer instead of professor. Often times these people have made enough money that salary isn’t as much of an issue for them, but it’s the respect that they want to feel.”
Robinson said LEO was not willing to budge on this issue.
“We’re not going to give that one up because it doesn’t cost anything,” he said.
Various student organizations have expressed support for LEO’s bargaining campaign, including
The College Democrats have also spoken out to encourage LEO and its members in the bargaining process. Communication Director sophomore Katie Kelly said in a statement the Dems believe “our educators are a vital part of our university.”
“College Dems believes in and understands the importance of unions and education,” she said. “We fully support the efforts of LEO during their contract negotiations. Our lecturers deserve fair compensation for their contributions to our university. The way the university spends its money reflects its values, and we hope the University of Michigan chooses to value education and meet LEO’s demands.”