EMU faculty union members support "job action," and a few thoughts

I went to the EMU-AAUP faculty union meeting Tuesday afternoon, where I suppose the “big news” was a vote to authorize a vote to give the chief negotiator to take a “job action” of necessary. If we actually wanted to go on strike, we’d have to have another meeting to authorize that, so this is just a first step.

It was a good meeting because folks on the negotiating team explained some of the issues on the table and there was a chance for “questions and answers” from faculty. In brief, the main issues on the table (as I understand them and in my own personal ranking of importance) are:

* Hiring more faculty. There is some debate about some of the numbers here, but basically, under the Kirkpatrick administration, faculty numbers have been decreasing, while the ranks of administrators at EMU have been increasing. The administration has announced more searches in the coming year, but given the fact that these same administrators cancelled 25 or so searches last year, there’s reason to be a bit doubtful about these “promises.” What the faculty want is some kind of contract language that pledges a commitment to hire a certain number of folks over the next few years.

* Money. We want more of it (duh). The administration hasn’t made any offer on this yet, so it’s hard to say what they are willing to give us versus what we want.

* Insurance. Right now, faculty can choose among three (I think it’s three…) different insurance programs. The administration wants us all to be in one program called “Community Blue PPO.” The union doesn’t like this for a variety of different and obvious reasons, including the fact that about a third of the faculty have one of the programs the administration wants to eliminate. What the faculty want is for the insurance choices to remain the same. Personally, I don’t care as much about this one because I’m already enrolled in the program the administration wants everyone to be in, and I think it’s pretty good insurance, too.

There are some other issues too that might be significant (including pay rates for Continuing Education classes), but I think these are the big three…

A few other thoughts:

* The argumentative practices of unions in general and of these meetings in particular are always so crude. It’s always a “us versus them” kind of discussion, when the reality of it is most of “them” (the administrators) were in recent memory one of “us” (faculty). I saw a guy at this meeting sitting in front of me who used to be the dean of the college of arts and sciences, then he stepped down and was a faculty member, then he was an interim department head, and now he’s back to the faculty. And on some of the issues, even issues that would seem black-and-white, how good or bad the situation is depends a lot on which set of numbers you use. I guess that’s the fault of the format of these things, but you would think a bunch of academics could be more subtle than this.

* Along these lines, I’m not sure that a faculty union meeting looks a lot different than an automotive worker union meeting. For example, this meeting featured speeches peppered with “call and respond” sorts of lines along the lines of “are we gonna take that?!” It’s like someone holding up a big sign that says “Faculty response: NO!” Of course, I’ve never been to an auto worker union meeting, so…

* I believe in unions, I really do. I think faculty at EMU are better off in general with a union, and there is no question that Kirkpatrick would have made things a hell of a lot worse here in his time had there not been a union to at least slow him down a bit. But at the same time, one of the downsides of unions is they end up protecting and preserving a certain level of mediocrity among workers, because in its efforts to protect all workers, unions end up protecting some workers who probably don’t really deserve protection. And the result is unions don’t really promote a culture that encourages individuals to over-achieve. I could go on about this, but I think that’s enough. I’m glad I’m in the union– honest, I am. I just wish there was a better process.

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