Members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization have authorized union leadership to initiate a walkout on April 9 and 10, LEO Ann Arbor co-chair Shelley Manis announced Wednesday in a telephone press conference. Manis said the University of Michigan still has time to meet the union’s demands for increased minimum salaries and annual raises.

“Let’s be clear,” Manis said. “This is happening because so far the administration has offered incredibly insulting counters to our imminently fair demands. Our members are highly credentialed and dedicated professionals who contribute substantially to the educational mission of this University and we know the University has resources to ensure that we can make a decent living.” 

Representing nearly 1,700 non-tenure track faculty members at the University’s three campuses, LEO’s contract is set to expire in April and bargaining has been ongoing since last semester.

Following general membership meetings on the University’s three campuses, LEO distributed online ballots to members Sunday. Manis said 80 percent voted in favor of authorizing the union council to instigate a major job action “if bargaining doesn’t progress substantially,” adding the University could adopt the union’s salary proposals “by merely drawing on the money generated by our labor without having to raise tuition by a penny.” 

In 2016 and 2017, lecturers produced $462 million in revenue while the cost of employment was $85 million, resulting in a surplus of $377 million. LEO argues the University is more than capable of raising wages and improving benefits by using this surplus. 

Lecturer salary has been a particularly contentious issue. Right now, the minimum salary for a full-time lecturer is $34,500 at U-M Ann Arbor, $28,300 at U-M Dearborn and $27,300 at U-M Flint.

LEO proposed raising the minimum to $60,000 in Ann Arbor and $56,000 in Dearborn and Flint, with a $1,000 equity adjustment for every year of service and annual increases between 5 and 7 percent. Friday, the University offered adding $2,000 to minimum salaries in 2019 and 2020, with 2.25 percent annual raises over three years in Ann Arbor but no additional increases.

LEO President Ian Robinson, a sociology lecturer, said this salary package provided no improvements for lecturers whose salaries were above the minimum.

“The most important piece that they said absolutely nothing on, and had no explanation for why they had nothing to say about it, was that for people who are already above the minimum, there’s no increase at all for them,” Robinson said.

Under the terms of the University’s proposal, in 2021, the last year of the new contract, the salary minimum for lecturers would be $40,000 in Ann Arbor, $34,000 in Dearborn and $33,000 in Flint. Manis called the offer “inadequate.”

LEO’s current contract, which remains in effect until April 20, includes a clause prohibiting strikes. Additionally, teacher strikes and strikes by public employees are illegal in Michigan.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email the University and LEO will continue to bargain “in good faith” and remains “hopeful” a deal will be reached soon. He also expressed concern about the effect a walkout would have on students.

“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. “The university believes strongly that the collective bargaining process is effective and there is no need for LEO to call for a strike.”

Marcus Darden, a lecturer in computer science and electrical engineering in Ann Arbor, said lecturers did not want to strike but would if they felt it was necessary.

“I don’t want to go on strike,” he said. “None of the lecturers want to go on strike. None of us want to leave our students. We work hard and are very committed to them and the job that we do, and leaving for a job action is very distasteful to every one of us. But if that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

LEO negotiated with the University’s bargaining team Wednesday afternoon. Another bargaining session is scheduled for Friday, with tentative sessions planned for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. LEO will also host a grade-in Thursday before the Board of Regents meeting, during which lecturers will address the board.

General membership meetings with lecturers in Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor are planned for the first week in April.

“At these meetings, we’ll vote on whether to exercise the strike authorization we received today,” Manis said. “Between now and these meetings we have several opportunities to make ourselves heard to the administration and plenty of time for administration to bring a serious proposal to the table.”

Manis agreed lecturers did not want to go on strike. She said even if the University did not outright accept LEO’s proposal, she’d be willing to bring an offer that showed “serious” movement toward the union’s demand before LEO members to decide if such a proposal would be sufficient to postpone a major job action.

“We want to hear what our members will agree to,” Manis said. “One thing we have repeatedly told them is that we are not interested in bargaining to the middle. We need substantial, serious offers.”

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