Yelling slogans, holding signs and beating drums, supporters of
the Lecturers’ Employee Organization guarded the doors of
University buildings yesterday, trying to divert students and
faculty from attending their classes.
“I’ve been out here (picketing) since 11
a.m.,” LSA sophomore Stephanie Fitzwater said. “Many
students don’t seem to understand that it affects them.
I’ve seen a lot of people cross (the picket line).”
The main picket lines formed around the entrances to Angell,
Haven and Mason halls, Dennison Hall, the Chemistry Building and
the School of Social Work.
The one-day walkout began less than two hours after negotiations
between LEO and the University administration broke off early
yesterday morning shortly after 4 a.m. Since its formation in
August, LEO has fought to create its first contract with the
University, with guarantees of higher salaries, job security and
After two rounds of negotiations on Wednesday failed to lead to
an agreement, LEO decided to go through with the planned walkout to
keep pressure on the University.
Students’ feelings about the walkout ranged from apathy to
intense feelings for both sides.
LSA senior Nat Danren, who joined the picket and attended an
informational meeting about LEO’s history, said he
sympathized with most lecturers working in the Department of
Romance Languages and Literatures.
“I support the foreign language department. If you get
fired and hired every year there is no job security. If
you’re foreign, it is hard to get a visa because you
don’t appear to have stable work because of the hiring
policies,” Danren said.
LSA senior Conal Roche said he also supports LEO. He said he can
relate to their plight because it could be directly connected with
his future career.
“Knowing that I’m getting an English degree and I
could be a lecturer in the future, it’s in my direct interest
to support the rights of lecturers,” Roche said.
Music sophomore Patrize Seibel said that although she attended
class, she did not have to cross the picket line to do so.
“We met at Bruegger’s Bagels instead. It was more
chill; we got out early. (Our teacher) wanted to teach, but she
didn’t want to cross the picket line,” Seibel said.
Because of the strike, the hallways of the normally crowded
Angell Hall complex were desolate, with an occasional student
passing through there. Even the otherwise packed Angell Hall
Computing Site was only about two-thirds full with students who
chose to cross the picket line.
“(I crossed the picket line) because I felt that going to
class is important to me. I didn’t have any classes
cancelled. I don’t entirely support the lecturers — I
feel that they didn’t go about this right,” LSA
sophomore Dan Tietz said.
He added that he thinks lecturers should have continued to
negotiate with the University instead of “arbitrarily”
Other students, such as LSA junior Adam Stenavich, said they
went to classes simply because they were convinced that some
departments did not mistreat their lecturers.
“I went to my economics class because my professor
explained to us that (the economics department) takes care of their
employees. She didn’t talk about the other departments
though. I’m not educated enough on the subject to really have
an opinion,” Stenavich said.
English Prof. Martha Vicinus said she has mixed views on
LEO’s demands of the University.
“I think LEO should have a contract. It is important to
pay our lecturers a good salary,” Vicinus said.
But Vicinus said she does not agree with LEO’s demands for
health care benefits, because they want benefits greater than those
of the University faculty.
She added LEO should differentiate between the three campuses
— Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint — because of the
different living costs in the three locations and the varying sizes
of the institutions.
The LEO was not unprecedented. The Graduate Employees’
Organization has also used collective protests in the past 30 years
to fight for better working conditions. A strike in 1975 was led by
the newly formed GEO, after negotiations on a first contract
between the University and GSIs failed.
“I saw a lot of improvements — once GSIs had a union
they attracted more positive people. They were empowered because
they had a voice over their working conditions. The quality of the
GSIs has improved because they know that they have a good job with
respect,” said retired lecturer Ann Marie Sargent, who was a
GSI at the University between 1972 and 1977.
GEO also staged a one-day walkout two years ago, that time
demanding a new contract with higher wages and childcare benefits.
Shortly after the walkout, the University and GEO reached an
agreement on a new contract.
Sargent added that she feels GEO paved the way for more unions
such as LEO.
“I think that the University found out with GEO that they
have to treat the instructors fairly and pay them decently. They
have been getting away with the exploitation of lecturers for a
long time. They’ve seen the writing on the wall; they are
just prolonging the present situation,” Sargent said.
A walkout was also staged on the University’s Flint and