The first major disagreement between the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and the University since last year’s lecturer walkout has occurred over the alleged firing of 15 employees.

LEO has filed grievances saying these lecturers have been improperly fired by the University this year. Most of the complaints have come from lecturers on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, with a few from the Flint campus.

According to the union, individual University departments originally said the lecturers were laid off due to budget shortfalls and enrollment problems. But the University said later that the lecturers were fired because they were performing poorly, LEO claims.

University officials would not verify if employees were fired as opposed to being laid off.

The distinction is significant, LEO local chapter co-chair Kirsten Herold said, because “if you’re laid off and a course becomes available that you’re qualified to teach, they have to call you back. And in other cases they are laying off people we think should be working.”

On the other hand, if the University classifies lecturers as being fired — rather than laid off for budgetary reasons — they could permanently lose their positions, added Herold, an English lecturer.

But Herold said there was no proof of the lecturers’ poor performance to justify terminating their jobs.

“They’re citing specific problems, but there’s no evidence anywhere of those specific problems,” Herold said.

When asked if LEO had its own evidence about the legitimacy of the lecturers’ complaints, Herold said, “We wouldn’t be filing grievances if we didn’t think there was merit to the grievances. Of course we think the grievances have merit.”

Without specific knowledge of the complaints, the University would not comment on LEO’s allegations.

“The University is committed to working with the union to achieve the goals of the first contract,” said Nancy Connell, a University spokeswoman.

The University and LEO have been discussing contract issues at special conferences this year, Frumkin said.

The first three-year contract was approved in June by the union and the University after a contentious 10-month deliberation period and a daylong walkout of lecturers on April 8.

But Connell said differences are partly the result of both parties developing their own understanding of the language set down in the new contract.

“Any time you’ve got a first contract, you’ve got the University and the union and they’ve worked out contract language. Then the implementation of the contract occurs and that involves the actual interpretation of the language and then the implementation,” Connell said.

Jeff Frumkin, an attorney for the University’s general council office, said LEO’s grievances are being processed.

“The grievances have been filed according to the grievance procedures, and we’ve responded to them based on the facts of the situation and how we believe how the contract is intended to operate,” Frumkin said.

LEO plans to continue pressing its grievances, but its members do not plan to strike to resolve differences with the University. Striking is “currently not an option,” Herold said.

“We will be pursuing them with the legal means we have, which is taking them through the University grievance system and then take them to arbitration,” Herold said.

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