Members and supporters of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization gathered in front of residence halls during student move-in over the weekend to demand the University of Michigan administration provide increased median salaries for lecturers at the U-M Flint and Dearborn campuses.
LEO members voted to quit their existing contract on Aug. 9. Their Friday and Saturday protests come after nearly nine unsuccessful months of contract negotiations between LEO and the University administration.
LEO has given the University until Sept. 8 to negotiate a new contract. After, they are no longer contractually prohibited from striking and can vote to take this action.
Protestors marched by the Mosher-Jordan and Alice Lloyd Residence Halls on Observatory Street. They chanted slogans, such as, “Those who write the checks, must respect the lecs,” and “How many jobs should a lecturer have? One job, one job.”
“Our goal was not to be disruptive to move-in but to educate parents and students about the actual (working) conditions of their lecturers,” U-M Dearborn’s LEO chair Erik Marshall said.
The University was unhappy with LEO’s decision to picket outside student move-in, according to University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald in an Aug. 29 email to The Michigan Daily.
“We’re disappointed that LEO would target students as they move back to campus, although we recognize their right of free speech,” Fitzgerald wrote.
A strike beginning on or after Sept. 8 wouldn’t violate LEO’s collective bargaining agreement and thus wouldn’t be considered a breach of contract. A strike would still violate the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act of 1947, which prohibits strikes by public employees.
When members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization voted to strike last fall, the University sued the union, citing both the PERA and GEO’s own collective bargaining agreement which prohibited the action.
Cindee Giffen, lecturer II in the Comprehensive Studies Program at the Ann Arbor campus, said LEO protested to make the University aware that the union should be taken seriously.
“One of the things we are hoping to achieve today is to make sure that President Schlissel and the regents know that our strike threat is real,” Giffen said. “So even right at the end of summer, when (lecturers) are busy preparing for classes, we’re still able to mount a successful picket line.”
Giffen said lecturers teach a larger number of classes than Graduate Student Instructors. She said a potential LEO strike would be bigger and affect more students than the GEO strike last fall.
The University’s lecturers are hired in various series’ based on their responsibilities, which determines pay grade and tracks for advancement. Lecturers with I and II appointments are primarily responsible for teaching students, whereas lecturers with III and IV appointments include additional administrative duties.
Currently, the minimum salary for a Lecturer I on the Ann Arbor campus is $51,000. The equivalent position at both the Flint and Dearborn campuses has a minimum salary of $41,000.
The University’s most recent salary proposal keeps the Ann Arbor Lecturer I minimum salary at $51,000, though it raises the median salary for Ann Arbor lecturers 11.7%. The proposal also raises the Flint and Dearborn minimum salary to $48,000 by the 2023-2024 school year, a 16.4% increase at U-M Dearborn and the 20.6% increase at U-M Flint.
Jimmy Brancho, lecturer III at U-M Ann Arbor’s Sweetland Center for Writing, said he’s satisfied with his salary but wanted to protest on behalf of lecturers at the University’s Flint and Dearborn campuses.
“I’m pretty happy with my personal situation and treated well in my department,” Brancho said. “What really motivates me is that I have a friend who teaches on the Flint campus, she’s been teaching for 21 years, and she makes $9,000 less than I do in my fifth year (at Ann Arbor).”
To avoid a strike, Giffen said LEO hopes the University will offer significant increases in median salaries for lecturers on the Flint and Dearborn campuses as well as annual salary increases on all three campuses that recognized inflation and loyalty to the University.
“We’d be really happy if we could get really nice annual increases for our members as well as increases that recognize longevity for the members on our campuses,” Giffen said. “We’re trying to implement a longevity raise and we’re also trying to implement raises for at least some sort of floor minima for people that are past one major review or two major reviews.”
While the threat of a strike loomed large over the demonstrations, lecturers reiterated their desire to avoid disrupting their students’ learning. Giffen said on Friday she hoped to avoid a strike, but said it was up to the University to uphold LEO’s demands.
“(The University) could come through today and we wouldn’t be here tomorrow,” Giffen said. “The ball is in their court.”
But University President Mark Schlissel said it was “up to LEO” whether or not there would be a strike — and that the University was committed to negotiating in good faith with LEO to avoid one — in an interview with The Daily on Wednesday.
Fitzgerald wrote the University’s negotiating team is still working towards an agreement. He pushed back against LEO’s assertion that the University is responsible for the impasse.
“We do not believe a strike is appropriate, nor is necessary for LEO and the University to arrive at a fair contract that represents significant progress for its members,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Bargaining will continue this week.”
In a statement posted to its website, Academic Human Resources said the University wants to avoid the disruption to learning a strike would cause.
“Students are eager to return to campus and a strike would cause great harm and stress to them, particularly for our undergraduate students, who already have endured significant disruptions to their education during the pandemic,” the statement reads. “In addition, strikes by public employees are prohibited by state law.”
GEO secretary Yeager, a Rackham student, said LEO was supportive of the GEO strike last fall, and said GEO would reciprocate LEO’s support.
“LEO showed up for us when we were on strike last year … we’re absolutely going to show (them) that same solidarity,” Yeager said.
LSA junior Bennett Walling, member of the One University campaign which advocates for increased equity across the three campuses, said that as a former U-M Flint student, his experience at the Ann Arbor campus was very different from the experience he had at Flint.
Walling said it’s important for other undergraduate students to stand in solidarity with LEO because their goals would increase the quality of education on all three campuses.
“It’s important to come out and show we stand with our teachers, our lecturers are so important to our education,” Walling said. “We want them to have the best working conditions because their working conditions are (our) learning conditions.”
LSA freshman Eileen No, who was moving in during the protest, said seeing people protesting for what they believed in was inspiring.
“I never experienced protests (at home),” No said. “Actually, seeing this is really new because these are people fighting for what they think is true … I think it’s really motivating for students who are going to be our future.”
Daily Staff Reporters Dominic Coletti and George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.