After University representatives walked out of an Apr. 1 meeting that was meant to settle the nine-month-long dispute with the Lecturers’ Employee Organization over a discrepancy with this year’s lecturer salary raises, it’s clear that the grievance will only be settled by outside arbitration. What is also clear is that even if the University wins in arbitration, the actions of high-level administrators have been shortsighted. Their vindictiveness and incompetence has further poisoned an already long-strained relationship between lecturers and the University, which will result in not only more acrimonious contract talks next year with LEO but also during the 2010-11 school year with the Graduate Employees’ Organization. (Full disclosure: I am the former communications chair for GEO, and a current member.)

On Mar. 12, the University denied a grievance filed by LEO, prompting a union-organized teach-in on Mar. 31 and Apr. 1 in which lecturers would spend 10 minutes of their class discussing the issue.

In response, the University threatened to file an unfair labor practice complaint if LEO went through with the action. Then, on Mar. 30, it offered to meet and discuss the issue on Apr. 1.

At its core, the salary dispute between LEO and the administration is over the distribution of money for faculty raises. In practice, raises for lecturers at Ann Arbor are tied to the increase of the “A” fund, which is a general pool of money that LSA uses to provide merit-based increases for faculty members. The college uses other funds — known informally as the “B”, “C” and “Super C” funds — to cover the other classifications of faculty raises, like getting promoted from assistant professor to associate professor.

Obviously, the relative sizes of these funds will vary from year to year. But over the last four years, according to internal University documents obtained by LEO and the Michigan Daily (University officials and LEO seek arbitration to settle dispute over pay raises, 04/02/2009), the size of the A fund has steadily shrunk from 62 percent of the pool to less than 38 percent while the combined C and Super C funds have grown from 20 percent to 41 percent.

This appears to be an ongoing effort by the administration to shortchange lecturers. Even as the pool for faculty raises roughly doubled from $1.98 million in 2006 to $3.64 million in 2009, the average lecturer raise has languished below 15 percent for the same time period.

Last Friday, I asked Director of Academic Human Resources Jeffrey Frumkin if the University had been ready to offer a monetary settlement to LEO on the raise issue.

He told me, “Let’s put it this way — it would have been inappropriate to come to a meeting without a settlement offer.”

But the University didn’t let him offer it. After having received one complaint from a prospective student about a lecturer who conducted the teach-in hearing that LEO had called it off, someone from a “higher level,” as Frumkin put it, instructed him to cancel the meeting.
To translate, someone in the Provost’s office, to which Frumkin reports, decided to call off negotiations.

Apparently, the University takes the opinions of prospective students quite seriously. I just wish it would listen to the opinions of its current students and employees as well.

What really makes the sincerity of the University’s pontification suspect is that Frumkin said no one told him about lesson plan deviations when LEO held a full-fledged teach-in on Apr. 6 and 7. That leaves us with ill feelings all around — on top of a long, long list of grievances that lecturers have traditionally had about lack of job security, lack of respect and lousy pay.

So what have we learned?

LEO members learned that only the threat of action will force the University back to the bargaining table, because administrators don’t take grievances seriously. More importantly, since administrators have been abusing the current contract to limit pay, they’ll open bargaining next year seeking to scrap the current salary article. That will make negotiations onerous, to say the least. Finally, remember that similar provisions govern raises in the GEO contract with the University — which will make the 2011 GEO-University talks more contentious as well.

So congratulations, administration, in trying to make a quick buck. You have yet again shot yourself in the foot on labor relations. How many headaches do you have to endure before you learn that it costs less to work with your organized employees than trying to cheat them?

Patrick O’Mahen can be reached at pomahen@umich.edu.

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