LEO bargaining continues as contract deadline nears

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 9:38pm

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Casey Tin/Daily

With about two months left until the Lecturers’ Employee Organization’s current contract ends on April 20, the union’s bargaining team continues to meet weekly with a University delegation to negotiate a new agreement regarding wages, performance evaluations and other factors. In a closed bargaining session at the Administrative Services Building Monday night, the University responded to a salary proposal that had been submitted at the end of October, offering an increase of $1,000 to the starting pay, according to the LEO blog.

Founded in 2003, LEO represents approximately 1,700 non-tenure faculty among the University of Michigan’s three campuses. LEO’s principal demands include better pay, more benefits and improved job security.

The University originally planned to offer its own salary proposal Friday at an open bargaining session in Dearborn, but the event was canceled due to inclement weather. A shorter meeting was scheduled for Monday to make up for lost time.

LEO President Ian Robinson, Lecturer in the Sociology Department, said the University delivered its response “earlier than has typically been the case in bargaining,” a change he regards as a positive development.

“The U of M bargaining team began by telling us that they think the current contract is great and they see no need to make major changes to any of it,” Robinson said. “Of course, that’s an opening stance, and in bargaining, you never start by saying what you are prepared to do.”

According to LEO, the minimum salary in Ann Arbor for full-time lecturers is $34,500, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. LEO’s bargaining platform calls for an increase in minimum salaries and measures to address the pay gap between the three campuses.

“U of M is so well off that, unlike many employers, they have seldom demanded concessions — i.e., lower wages or benefits — in bargaining,” Robinson said. “But neither have they been eager to pay us better, despite our low rate of pay relative to K-12 teachers and community college faculty.”

Data from the National Education Association shows that the average salary for a Michigan public school teacher was $61,560 in 2012.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University and LEO have been working to reach an agreement on a large number of the proposed changes.

“The first test of any contract is that both sides see it as a fair and reasonable agreement,” Fitzgerald said. “The University’s overall objectives are to have a contract that is economically fair to the lecturers and fiscally responsible for the University, does not impinge on the academic mission of the university, and allows the university to recruit and retain the best possible educators for this portion of our instructional faculty.”

Fitzgerald said the bargaining process has involved “many hours and levels of internal consultation” with lecturers and other prominent voices across the three campuses, including University Human Resources and the provosts.

“LEO has put a large number of proposals on the bargaining table this year and we are working through those proposals systematically,” Fitzgerald said.

Enhanced job security for entry-level lecturers is another LEO’s demand. Of the four types of lecturers, those designated as Lecturers I or Lecturers II primarily teach, while Lecturers III and Lecturers IV additionally perform administrative duties. Lecturers I tend to be the most vulnerable, as they have one-semester or one-year contracts and are paid per class. Lecturer II, III or IV typically have multi-year contracts, and Lecturers III and IV are usually paid higher than the minimum.

LEO was able to raise the minimum salary when they negotiated their first agreement with the University 14 years ago, and Lecturer I salary has increased by 11 percent since then. However, Robinson said in the time since that deal was struck, those gains have eroded as prices in 2018 are 34 percent higher than the prices in 2003 due to inflation.

“That tells me that LEO in those years did not build enough power to force the admin to do something they did not want to do,” Robinson said. “And in the absence of that power, the admin was content to see the real income of their Lecs go down. This time around, we're building the power to ensure that we not only make up the ground lost.”

LEO has amassed support for its bargaining efforts from allies, using the hashtag #RespectTheLecs.

Central Student Government representative Frank Guzman, an LSA sophomore, made remarks to administration at a meeting on Jan. 26, reading aloud a CSG resolution that unanimously passed in support of LEO’s efforts. Guzman said he felt compelled to do so because he attended a school district in California where the teachers were “considerably underpaid in comparison to surrounding cities.”

“I came to the University of Michigan to find the same issues within the University,” Guzman said. “The status of the lecturers' contract is definitely of concern to the entire student body. These are our educators and paying them higher wages is a tribute to the respect they deserve for helping us become the best versions of ourselves. Our lecturers push us and teach and wherever we go we will have a part of them with us.”

Robinson said he feels “cautiously optimistic” LEO and the university will meet the bargaining deadline.

“In short, we're demanding big changes,” he said. “But over the last 35 years of corporatization, U of M — and public higher ed more generally — has drifted a long way from where it ought to be, in a number of respects. We can't get back on track ... without a major course correction.”

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