LEO occupies administration building on final day of contract

Friday, April 20, 2018 - 5:44pm

LSA Lecturer IV and LEO President Ian Robinson at the LEO Sit-In outside Provost Martin Philbert's office Friday.

LSA Lecturer IV and LEO President Ian Robinson at the LEO Sit-In outside Provost Martin Philbert's office Friday. Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

On Friday afternoon, about 30 members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization occupied a floor of the Fleming Administration Building. Lecturers camped outside of University of Michigan Provost Martin Philbert’s office. Philbert was not present at the time. They also delivered handwritten messages from allies written in support of the union’s efforts to negotiate a new contract with the University.

LEO President Ian Robinson said when the union dropped off similar messages two weeks ago, Philbert responded through an associate and said “he wasn’t impressed by that.” Union members doubled their efforts, leaving more letters outside Philbert’s office.

“We came here to deliver messages to the provost,” he said. “We knew in advance, we had been told he wouldn’t be here, so we decided we would come here and just stay for a little just to demonstrate our seriousness because this is a very, very important matter. The term is coming to an end and this is the last day of the contract, but we’re not going away. We’re determined to make a breakthrough.”

Representing nearly 1,700 non-tenure-track faculty members across the University’s three campuses, LEO has prioritized higher wagesimproved equity adjustments and enhanced benefits throughout the bargaining process, which began last semester and nearly resulted in a walkout earlier this month. Union members have blamed a lack of “political will” on the part of the administration, including the provost, for stalemates in negotiations.

University Provost Philbert did not respond to a request for a comment.

LEO’s current contract expires Friday, April 20, but the terms of that contract will remain in effect until either LEO or the University decides to end it. Should one of the parties involved announce that it no longer wants the contract to continue, the agreement would officially end 30 days later.

Robinson said several more bargaining sessions are scheduled before the current academic term ends on Monday, April 30.

“That’s an important deadline,” Robinson said. “If we don’t come up with an agreement that we can recommend to our members by that time, we can’t sign a tentative agreement under our LEO constitution until the fall when our members return. If we wanna get this thing resolved before fall, we have to do it by the end of this month.”

According to Robinson, LEO’s bargaining team can schedule more sessions with the University if necessary.

“I actually don’t believe we need a whole lot of meetings to resolve the remaining issues,” Robinson said. “Mainly, they’re just about amounts of money. Either you are willing to pay the money or you’re not, and if you are willing to pay it, it doesn’t take very long to figure out how to do that.”

Salary has been a particularly controversial issue throughout negotiations. Currently, the minimum starting salary for a lecturer is $34,500 in Ann Arbor, $28,300 in Dearborn and $27,300 in Flint. Union leadership called off a potential strike only after the administration offered an increase of more than $10,000 to the starting salary in Ann Arbor and more than $8,700 in Flint and Dearborn.

In an email, University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote, “The university continues to bargain in good faith this afternoon and next week with LEO.”

Lecturers staged the sit-in after holding a block party in Regents’ Plaza to thank students and other allies for their support. Some LEO members voiced concern that with students leaving campus, the union’s bargaining campaign could suffer a loss of momentum.

Margot Finn, a lecturer in American culture and University courses, said she hopes the support LEO has enjoyed from students and allies continues.

“It is hard to organize on college campuses because of the ebb and flow of the semesters,” Finn said. “I think LEO members will continue showing up and I think a lot of the community allies, especially tenure-track faculty, will. I’ve seen so much commitment from the students, and I hope that continues into the fall. It’s just hard to predict the future.”