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Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Lecturers’ Employee Organization could vote to go on strike as early as Sept. 8, not Sept. 5.
On Aug. 9, lecturers, students and other community members from across the three University of Michigan campuses marched down State Street, announcing that the Lecturers’ Employee Organization will be quitting their contract with the University. While LEO’s previous contract with the University ended April 20, the union has spent the last eight months negotiating the terms of a new contract before the beginning of Fall semester, according to an email press release sent to The Michigan Daily on Aug. 6.
Article 42 of LEO’s previous contract — which would have continued to be the framework for the union’s relationship with the University until a new contract was signed — allows either party to decide not to renew the contract. If either the University or LEO decides to do this, they must give the other party 30 days’ notice before the contract termination officially goes into effect.
As of Monday, LEO gave the University that 30 days’ notice. Now, both parties will use that time to attempt to settle on a new contract altogether. LEO has been bargaining for an extended contract since January, with its main focus being pay parity across the three U-M campuses for non-tenure track faculty.
In the press release, LEO mentioned that terminating the contract in 30 days means union members could vote to go on strike as early as Sept. 8. The previous contract includes a “no strike” clause which has prevented LEO members from refusing to work or interfering with U-M operations while the contract was in effect.
Craig Regester, an adjunct lecturer at U-M Ann Arbor, said LEO is quitting the contract because U-M administration is taking too long to settle on what he considers to be reasonable demands.
“What we’re really frustrated by is that the University doesn’t seem to accept our basic argument,” Regester said. “I’ve watched our (bargaining) team make really reasonable, smart, intelligent arguments for what we’re asking for.”
In an email sent to The Daily on July 3, U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald explained why the University has thus far been unable to concede to LEO’s demands for increased lecturer salaries and pay parity across all three U-M campuses.
“LEO’s salary proposal is not sustainable,” Fitzgerald said. “What LEO is proposing is a 51% increase over three years for the Flint and Dearborn campuses and a 23% increase over three years for Ann Arbor.”
In the July email, Fitzgerald also emphasized that the University wanted to reach an agreement with LEO prior to the start of the Fall 2021 semester. Fitzgerald said the University was willing to raise lecturer salaries; however, the individual increases would not rectify the overall pay disparity between the three campuses.
“The university’s proposal would raise the average, eight-month salaries, over the life of the contract, by 10.60% with the average salary in Ann Arbor reaching $87,577; $55,265 in Dearborn; and $58,683 in Flint,” Fitzgerald said.
P.F. Potvin, a Lecturer IV at U-M Dearborn, said Monday’s rally was intended to raise awareness about the major issues LEO sees with the previous contract. Since LEO and the University will now have to work together to draft a new contract, Potvin says he hopes LEO can work to guarantee pay parity for lecturers across the three campuses. Potvin alluded to the salary disparity between faculty members working at the U-M Ann Arbor campus and those at the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses. He said that Lecturers I and II at the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses often teach more classes than those at the Ann Arbor campus, yet they are not paid more for them.
“Most people don’t realize that there isn’t parity in the work that’s being done in Dearborn and Flint compared to the work in Ann Arbor,” Potvin said. “Even on paper if the salaries are equal, they’re not equal pay for equal work. These faculty have similar advanced degrees, they have a lot of teaching experience, and we deserve to have that kind of parity throughout the U-M system.”
Regester said that ultimately LEO is fighting for the University to respect and prioritize students’ experience as well as lecturers. He explained that it is common for lecturers to be hired semesterly, and several members of LEO have to teach at multiple institutions within the same semester.
“When you have lecturers … who have to teach at multiple institutions, many of which pay more, then they’re much more likely to leave,” Regester said. “If they have an opportunity to teach at Mott Community College, which pays more than U-M Flint to start off with … then we’re losing talent and good teachers.”
Central Student Government President Nithya Arun, a Public Health senior, told The Daily that students across all three campuses need to stand together as “one university” to support pay parity for lecturers.
On June 16, Arun stood alongside the student government presidents of the Flint and Dearborn campuses and representatives from LEO and the One University Campaign at the “Fund Our Future Rally” in Ann Arbor. The historic tri-campus rally called for equitable funding and scholarship opportunities for students from all three campuses, and was successful in encouraging the Board of Regents to expand the Go Blue Guarantee scholarship program to the regional campuses. Arun and others attending the June rally also discussed the importance of equalizing faculty salaries across the three campuses. Although it has not yet been achieved, Arun recently told The Daily she will continue to fight in support of this goal.
“Students will continue to fight with lecturers until LEO gets a fair contract, and Dearborn and Flint get what they deserve,” Arun said.
Daille Held, a rising senior at U-M Dearborn, attended the LEO rally on Monday and said she thinks the University’s refusal to offer lecturers the same salary regardless of the campus they work within is counterintuitive to its mission. She said if University President Mark Schlissel truly prioritizes leadership and a high quality of education, the University should make it clear they value all lecturers equally by paying them fairly.
“Students in Dearborn (and Flint) deserve the same funding and opportunities as our counterparts in Ann Arbor,” Held said. “U-M is rated the best public university in the country and (one of the) wealthiest. Admin should be embarrassed to pay faculty members with master’s (degrees) and Ph.Ds the starting salary of only $41,000 a year.” Campus activists have long pointed to the fact that the University has an endowment over $12 billion, and U-M administration has unrestricted access to $3.1 billion of that. In addition to the substantial amount of endowed funds that could be used to support a pay parity initiative, Potvin emphasized that as a state-run university, the University receives substantial financial support from the state. Potvin said the University should therefore feel a responsibility to act in the interest of the public good by supporting all of its students and faculty equitably.
“We’re not asking for the moon, we’re asking for things that universities across the country have already established — livable wages — and the University has the money to do it,” Potvin said.
Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at email@example.com.