LEO holds march at first Ann Arbor open bargaining session

Sunday, March 18, 2018 - 4:57pm

The Lecturers' Employee Organization (LEO) marches for higher wages and increased benefits on the Diag early Friday afternoon.

The Lecturers' Employee Organization (LEO) marches for higher wages and increased benefits on the Diag early Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

During a break in the Lecturers’ Employee Organization’s first open bargaining session in Ann Arbor Friday, about 150 lecturers and allies – including students and tenure -track faculty – marched from the Diag to Palmer Commons. The marchers chanted and waved signs, demanding salary increases and enhanced job security for lecturers, two key aspects of the union’s bargaining platform to replace its current contract that expires April 20.

LEO President Ian Robinson, a sociology lecturer, said the high turnout provides leverage at the bargaining table.

“Really, to make a lot of major changes in anything you have to have a lot of people who are willing to be involved,” he said. “It shows our members just how many students are supporting them, from alumni here to elected officials. That’s really good for the morale of our folks.”

LEO, which represents nearly 1,500 non-tenure track faculty members across the University’s three campuses, has been in negotiations with the University since October. During the morning bargaining session Friday, Dearborn organizer Alex Elkins, an Afroamerican and African Studies lecturer, said the University’s bargaining team offered a “pretty big concession” on benefits for lecturers who are not employed full time.

“Today actually we saw some progress because they agreed to extend benefits eligibility to people who are less than half time if their total appointment for fall and winter equals above 50 percent,” Elkins said. “That was pretty big because a few months ago they told us they would never extend that to any employee group at the University.”

Salary has been a critical issue for lecturers. Right now, the minimum salary for a full-time lecturer is $34,500 in Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. LEO’s proposal would have raised the minimum to $60,000 in Ann Arbor and $56,000 in Dearborn and Flint in 2018, with $2,000 increases at all three campuses in 2019 and again in 2020.

In February, the University offered a $1,000 increase to the starting salary in 2019, $750 in 2020 and $500 in 2021. The deal also included a 1.5 percent annual raise for lecturers in Ann Arbor, but not those in Dearborn or Flint.

Union members called the offer “insulting” and held a press conference at the Michigan Union prior to the University’s Board of Regents meeting last month, appealing the board and University President Mark Schlissel directly.

With only four bargaining sessions left before the current contract expires, LEO plans to make an appearance at the next regents meeting on March 29 in Ann Arbor. LEO members have said regents have been generally “sympathetic.” In an email, Regent Denise Ilitch, (D), said she was in “full support of the Lecturer Employee Organization.”

In response to the University’s offer, LEO resubmitted its original proposal.

Elkins said without major progress on salaries, LEO members will move forward with plans to conduct a vote via electronic ballot to authorize the union leadership to call for a two-day walkout in early April.

“We still haven’t heard anything on salary,” he said. “Salary is the big one. If they’re not willing to come to the table with a serious offer, lecturers will walk.”

Andrea Cardinal, a lecturer at the School of Art & Design, said LEO expects to hear back from the University about salaries during an open bargaining session in Flint on Friday.

“We are still very anxious to learn about the salary,” she said. “The reason we think they didn’t want to respond to it is that they didn’t have a good response and they didn’t want to give it to us in front of our very packed bargaining room.”

LSA senior Minji Kim arrived to see the end of the bargaining session. Kim is a student of LEO’s Ann Arbor Co-Chair Shelley Mannis, Kim says the University was arguing market forces largely determine the pay lecturers receive.

“That basically means paying the minimum they possibly can and that’s just not fair because the lecturers bring in millions of dollars through their labor,” she said. “I think it makes me as a student not trust this University, that they’re not paying the people who are having the most impact on my life properly. It makes me wonder what they’re doing with all this money.”

According the University’s audited financial statement, lecturers produced $462 million in revenue in 2016 and 2017, while the cost of employment was $85 million, generating a surplus of $377 million.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald has previously said “overall objectives are to have a contract that is economically fair to the lecturers and fiscally responsible” for the University, but said he did “not have any additional information to share” when asked for comment.

“I hope you can appreciate that this is all part of the collective bargaining process,” he said. “The University believes these matters are best addressed at the bargaining table.”