Frustrated that the University has reacted too slowly to its
demands, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization is resorting to
stronger measures, threatening to hold a walkout April 8 in order
to compel University officials to accelerate the bargaining
process.

Since August 2003, negotiations between LEO and the University
over what they call low wages and lack of job security for
nontenured lecturers have occurred every Friday.

Originally LEO, formed in May 2003, hoped a contract would be
signed this month resolving these issues, but no concrete solutions
have been agreed upon. Instead, many within the organization feel
the University is reluctant to make any fundamental changes to
their employment system. “The University has been politely
and professionally stalling,” LEO Vice President Dennis
Pollard said.

This week LEO has been issuing a notice to many of the non
tenure-track lecturers, outlining the possible measures the
organization might take if the pace of negotiations does not
improve. If the vote for a walkout is authorized during LEO’s
March 23rd meeting, ballots will be mailed out to lecturers who
then must vote by March 27th. If the initiative passes, non-tenure
track lecturers said they will not teach any of their classes on
Thursday April 8.

After the walkout, LEO would further discuss other possible
actions, such as protesting and withholding grades until the
administration settles with the union.

The Graduate Employees Organization made similar threats last
year when they faced potential rises in health care. After several
negotiations, they reached a compromise with the administration.
Pollard said while the University acknowledges there are problems
with the job conditions of lecturers, administrators still do not
want to make any fundamental changes to the employment system.

“They seem to be unable or unwilling to revamp the entire
system. They want to tinker with parts. We think it needs to be
rethought and reworked, to make the fundamental change,”
Pollard said.

Although lecturers number about 1,600, or one third of the
University’s teaching staff, Pollard said the University
seems to almost be abusing their services.

“Most of the lecturers in my department make around
$28,000 a year. That might be someone who has been teaching for 20
years.”

The University will not satisfy LEO until they improve job
conditions and recognize that lecturers are professional staff that
cannot be taken advantage of, Pollard added.

“We are trying to stop the University from thinking of us
as casual labor, almost like migrant workers. They need to start
thinking of as professional educators.”

But University administrators said they see success in the
negotiation’s progress and don’t think lecturers will
need to take stronger measures.

“We believe that the negotiations are moving at a good
pace. It’s important to understand that this is not a renewal
of a contract. This is the construction of a contract from the
bottom up. It will take time,” University spokeswoman Julie
Peterson said.

She said the University would be very concerned if a walkout
occurred. She disclosed no specific details on what response the
University would make if the vote on the walkout passes.

“It’s too soon to talk about that. We would have
concerns about its disruption toward classes, but we don’t
feel that we are at that stage where it is necessary
yet.”

Peterson added that negotiations are still on track. “We
were all trying to get (a contract) done by the end of the
semester, and we are still trying to work toward that
goal.”

The fundamental changes LEO is looking for are still under
discussion, but they center on the issue of the appointment process
of lecturers, Pollard said. He added that LEO’s position is
that many non tenured lecturers have no assurance they will keep
their job until the end of their one-year contracts.

“What we are saying is that once the person has passed a
probationary period of five years, the person should have the
future assurance that they will be employed,” he said.

Ian Robinson, LEO’s organizing committee co-chair, said
the University has only been willing to extend the contracts of
lecturers, rather than give them full guaranteed employment.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me, it’s not
fair and not necessary. … Most of the lecturers have been
here for decades. They are going to hire them next year anyways;
why don’t they just change the system?”

Both Robinson and Pollard said that resorting to stronger
measures such as a walkout seems to be their best option to provoke
an adequate action from the University.

“In the last couple of weeks we have come to think that
it’s necessary to send a clear signal. It seems that we
aren’t moving at all. We’re maybe even moving in the
opposite direction,” Robinson said.

Yet it is still uncertain if a walkout will be deemed necessary.
Pollard added that if the University provides better proposals to
them, they will not strike.

But Robinson said the people he has talked to are all committed
to leaving their classrooms on April 8 if it comes to that.

“It’s too early to say. Right now we are in a
process of meeting members, and in two weeks time we will know, but
we don’t know that now. But my gut reaction is I think they
probably will strike (if called upon.)”

LSA freshman Aaron Rakes, however, is skeptical that a strike
will force the University to give into LEO’s demand. “I
don’t think it would do any good. It will probably do more
harm than good.”

Still, Rakes added that if LEO holds one strike and threatens to
hold more, while withholding their students’ grades at the
same time, it would definitely have an effect on the
University.

Other students think the strike is necessary.

LSA senior Mahmoud Fadlallah said the lecturers should take
action since it is unfair that their wages aren’t as high as
they should be.

“I don’t understand how that if you have a Ph.D. or
a master’s degree at the University you still will be making
less than a high school teacher.”

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