LEO members ratify new contract after months of bargaining

Friday, July 13, 2018 - 7:22pm

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Alec Cohen/Daily

After three days of electronic balloting and five membership events spread out across the three campuses outlining the new contract, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization voted to ratify a new labor agreement with the University on July 13.

Ninety eight percent of LEO members voted in favor of the new contract which will raise wages, improve healthcare and boost job security for lecturers across the three campuses. The contract was reached and presented to the union members for a vote following months of negotiations and numerous bargaining sessions with the University. LEO represents a union of more than 1,700 lecturers who collectively teach tens of thousands of students at the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.

“This agreement is a result of months of hard work at the bargaining table – and much more,” LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold, a lecturer at the U-M School of Public Health and manager of the LEO bargaining team, said in LEO’s official statement. “We organized. We marched. We rallied. We lobbied. And we built a coalition that includes students, tenure-track faculty, union members on and off the campus, elected officials and community allies.”

LEO’s previous contract expired on May 29. Since the beginning of the last academic year, LEO has been pushing for higher wages, improved healthcare and greater equity of resources across the three U-M campuses.

Under the new contract, as of September current lecturers will receive annual base pay raises ranging from $3,000 to $12,500, depending on the length of each lecturer’s service. Those who make over $80,000 will receive a combination of base increases and lump-sum payments.

By September 2020 the minimum salary at which the University can hire lecturers will increase at each campus.  In Ann Arbor, the base salary will increase by 47.8 percent from $34,500 to $51,000. In Flint there will be a 50.2 percent increase from $27,300 to $41,000. Finally, in Dearborn, the starting salary will go from $28,300 to $41,000, a 44.9 percent increase.

LEO President Ian Robinson said the new contract represents not only a shift in the University’s treatment of lecturers but also in its perception of lecturers.

“I would say that this is a real paradigm shift for our relationship with the University of Michigan,” Robinson said. “We really have dramatically improved the livelihoods of many, many of our members. Not everybody was poorly paid but many were and most of those now are at a living wage and the kind of wage that is more appropriate for a professional making a career teaching at the University of Michigan and that’s huge.”

Robinson explained the University has taken a massive step forward, serving as an example for other institutions with lecturers facing the same issues.

“There aren’t many, if any, other universities in the country that have made such a big change in the way they treat their lecturers,” Robinson said. “I don’t want to say this is the best agreement in the country, but I think it’s up there in the top few. It’s also a beacon for other lecturers and other universities for what universities can and ought to do around the country.”

The new contract will increase the University’s contribution to retirement income for lecturers, improve healthcare, enhance job security by modifying the lecturers’ performance review process and provide additional funding for professional development for the lecturers.  As a result of the new contract, a labor management conference will be held during the Fall 2019 semester in order for LEO and the University administration to discuss their progress towards the goal of improving diversity among the population of lecturers.

While the contract is a huge step forward for the lecturers, both Herold and Robinson agree it does not meet all of LEO’s expectations.

“We did not achieve everything our members wanted, especially in Flint and Dearborn – that is going to take more than a single round of collective bargaining,” Herold said. “But this contract does recognize the value lecturers contribute on all three campuses and sets the stage for further improvements.”

LEO member Steven Toth, a U-M Flint chemistry lecturer, said the discrepancy between the campuses can be discouraging for lecturers outside of the Ann Arbor campus.

“I think we should be working more towards equity across the campuses and I think it’s a pretty bad signal to say someone that teaches at Ann Arbor is worth more than someone who teaches at Flint or Dearborn,” Toth said. “I do think that they should be paid more due to the cost of living (in Ann Arbor) but not as dramatic as it is now.”

Similarly, Robinson said LEO is not done fighting to overcome the wage discrepancy between the three campuses. He believes there are other ways outside of collective bargaining to meet this need.

“Some things are bargained for collectively through negotiations and some things are much bigger,” Robinson said. “This is something that is much bigger than just a collective agreement.”

Robinson sees this inequity between the three campuses being addressed through more equitable funding between the campuses from Lansing, and through the use of the surplus of money in the University’s budget.

Despite the discrepancy of funding between the campuses, Toth said the ratification of the new contract represents not only a unilateral increase across the campuses but a step in the right direction towards treating the lecturers equally.

“It signals that the University is willing to make an investment in the satellite campuses and also it shows that they really care about retention for the lecturers,” Toth said.

While acknowledging there are still several steps to go before all of LEO’s goals can be met, Toth and Robinson agreed the new contract was a result of overwhelming public support.

“It’s absolutely the result of public pressure,” Toth said regarding the development of the new contract. “We had very few allies in the administration and a lot of allies in the public working for us. They (the administration) was clearly not willing to give in, but the public pressure from our allies in the community that were really reaching out to the regents, that really helped pushed LEO forward. Anytime I tell people, ‘I work for the University of Michigan, the 9th wealthiest college in the world and I make $27,000 a year,’ people are shocked.”

Similarly, Robinson expressed gratitude for all the students who were willing to stand up and speak out for lecturers.

“This amazing contract that we managed to secure is the product of a really huge group of people coming together to make it happen,” Robinson said. “I’m very proud and very impressed by how many of our members got involved, over 500 of our members were involved at one point or another. In addition to being really happy about the outcome, a lot of our members and I feel really grateful for all of the solidarity that was shown for lecturers from all of our allies and above all our students. It was really fantastic to see the level of support, not only verbal support but people willing to picket and come to meetings, that was exhibited by our students which was really fantastic.”