LEO members rally for their rights as workers, oppose Spencer

Members of the Lecturers' Employee Organization lead a  demonstration for higher pay and more bargaining rights outside of Palmer Commons Friday.

Members of the Lecturers' Employee Organization lead a demonstration for higher pay and more bargaining rights outside of Palmer Commons Friday. Buy this photo
Nikhil Brueggemann/Daily

 

Friday, December 1, 2017 - 6:50pm

On Friday about 50 University of Michigan community members, many of whom were members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, gathered at Palmer Commons to rally against the administration’s consideration of white supremacist Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus. The event brought together members of LEO who were fighting for their rights as workers and in opposition to the Spencer event.

LEO includes lecturers from all three University campuses: Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint. Founded in 2003, the union bargains for 1,500 lecturers.

Also in attendance were members of other local unions and representatives from student organizations such as Radfun and Young Democratic Socialists of America. Washtenaw County Commissioner Michelle Deatrick and state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, attended as well.

The rally took place after LEO’s fourth bargaining session with the administration in recent weeks to obtain enhanced job security, higher wages and improved benefits. At the rally, members called for such demands.

LSA senior Justin Villanueva is a husband and a father, as well as an undergraduate at the University. He credits lecturers with enabling his success in higher education, beginning with the classes he first took in 2002 at Henry Ford Community College.

“I remember when I first started, I was so nervous,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing and I would stay after class, and it was lecturers who would sit down and take time to help me understand the concepts, to understand what a thesis is and a body and a conclusion for a paper are.”

At the rally, Villanueva thanked the lecturers who have worked with him over the years.

“It was the office hours I went to, it was the time after class with you, the lecturers, that this spring I’m going to walk out of here, a 37-year-old husband and father, as an undergrad from the University of Michigan,” he said. “You guys have helped me to understand the world better and I’m going to walk out of here with an elite education.”

While this was the final rally of the term, LEO plans on returning to the bargaining table every Friday until union contracts expire in April 2018.

LEO President Ian Robinson, a sociology lecturer and associate research scientist, said he believes the lecturers deserve increased compensation given their importance to the University.

“We need your help to win at the bargaining table, where we have demands to ensure sure that lecturers get paid what we deserve based on our contributions to this University, which are substantial,” he said.

An analysis by Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor at Eastern Michigan University, found that lecturers at the University of Michigan provide more than 40 percent of teaching in first- and second-year undergraduate classes. Additionally, lecturers generate $462 million in revenue for the University, but receive compensation equivalent to $85 million.

LEO Vice President Kirsten Herold held a sign that read: “We moonlight to make ends meet. So, where’s the $377 million we made for U-M last year?”

“We need to win here with real improvements so that other lecturers, adjuncts, whatever they’re called, at other institutions can go back to their employers and say, ‘Michigan did it, so can you,’” she said.

According to the Bunsis analysis, the median full-time rate for lecturers is less than $60,000, while the median for clinical faculty is nearly $160,000. On the Flint and Dearborn campuses, the median full-time rate for lecturers is around $40,000.

LEO member Margot Finn, a lecturer in Applied Liberal Arts and the Program in the Environment, spoke at the rally, comparing the importance of bargaining to that of voting.

“Even when it’s a pain in the ass to go, even when the options are not optimal and even when I’m not guaranteed the results I want, it’s still something that a lot of people before me fought for me to get to do,” she said. “All of us know that lecturers do not get what they deserve. We are highly qualified teachers, many of whom spent years cultivating our subject matter expertise.”

Speakers at the rally also addressed the recent student protests, as LEO recently released its own statement in opposition to allowing Spencer to speak on campus.

Hoi An Pham, an organizer from Stop Spencer at the University of Michigan, spoke about the role lecturers have played in her college experience as well as LEO’s stance on Spencer’s request.

“Lecturers have further shown support toward students regarding the recent campus climate,” Pham said. “Their call to student safety is one that the entire administration has ignored, and it says something that the lecturers are willing to prioritize us as students when the administration, all of whom have job security, cannot.”

LEO Ann Arbor co-chair Shelley Manis said LEO and the student organizations that make up the Stop Spencer coalition agree white supremacy should not have a platform at the University.

“It may seem like we have two separate purposes, LEO and the student orgs, and in a way we do, and at the same time, we feel like it’s our job at LEO to keep white supremacy out of this campus,” she said. “We 100 percent support the student orgs who are doing everything they can to be heard and we want to amplify them, and we very much appreciate them amplifying us.”

Robinson emphasized the need ensure student safety. He also discussed how the Republican tax bill recently passed by the House of Representative could strain the University community, as the Graduate Employees’ Organization is the sister union of the LEO, and under the bill graduate students could face increased tax burdens.

“The tax bill that Trump is putting forward would do tremendous harm to our graduate students in terms of taxing their tuition fee waivers that are currently nontaxable,” Robinson said. “That’s enough to drive a substantial number of GEO and their counterparts all across the state out of graduate school. Some of us don’t like politics that much, but we can’t ignore it. It’s a luxury that we don’t have.”