The Strike of 2006: Day 10/11 (no news is no news…)

Howard Bunsis just sent around an email to let everyone know that, basically, there’s been no movement. So, in this case, no news is just that, no news.

So, I guess I end the day and begin the next with five basic thoughts. First, the pickets that the union will stage early this week will be critical. I am sure that there will be some faculty who will feel the pressure and obligation to teach, but we have to hang as tough as we can. Certainly we can’t cross picket lines. This is why the likes of Fallon and Valvo think they can bust the union: they are playing off of the senses of decency of college professors. We don’t go into this line of work because we don’t care; it’s not like we’re a bunch of folks working the line at Ford putting on headlights. It’s the exact opposite, and the powers that be are using the fact that we care about our students (and our scholarship, our colleagues, our university) against us.

Second, and conversely, because of the nature of the work that faculty do, they can’t use the same tactics as you’d use to bust up a union in manufacturing. If we were making cars, the schedule might not be that big of a deal. But in this “education business,” time and the schedule of the semester are everything. The longer this goes on, the more in danger we are of completing a legitimate semester. And the thing is that in the “education business,” the “customer” (eg, student) pays up front.

Third, even if the worst happens around here, it seems to me that a weaker union will be better than no union at all. And I ain’t convinced that the union is going to be weaker after this either.

Fourth, this is going to be a different place after this strike. The last time we went on strike for a week like this, it was kind of strange how quickly things between the rank-and-file faculty and the upper administration went back to normal. I don’t see that happening this time.

And fifth, we need to start working now to change the rules for the Board of Regents such that they are elected and not appointed.

8 thoughts on “The Strike of 2006: Day 10/11 (no news is no news…)”

  1. Hi Steve:

    I’ve been reading your blog with interest and I think it’s terrible that there’s been no resolution yet. But I wanted to make one quick observation–esp since there are probably other line/factory folks reading (my mother worked at a factory for almost 25 years): when you say that “We don’t go into this line of work because we don’t care; it’s not like we’re a bunch of folks working the line at Ford putting on headlights,” I would caution you a bit. Lots of line workers really _do_ care about what they do and feel just as strongly that their work matters (and that they want to do it well, and get back to it to produce work they can be proud of). I know you didn’t mean anything negative about assembly line workers in this comment, but some may take it that way–and given that some respondents here and probably in other forums see professors as having it so much better than others/being elitist. . . well, I thought it was worth pointing this out to you, in a friendly way.

    Best of luck,


  2. I am a student at EMU and I was just wondering what is your honest opinion of when all classes will be resumed?

  3. Just a note to say thanks for your strike “coverage.” If it wern’t for your blog, there would be no real daily “news” about what is happening at all. I appreciate your attempts to make sense of the “numbers” as well, in spite of not being a numbers person.
    It seems that almost everywhere there is a political/financial agenda, the “sides” are more and more polarized. Such a shame!
    Anyway, thanks again for your honesty and sharing whatever information that you have.
    Kind Regards,

  4. I have to agree with Kelly Ritter. You should be pretty darn careful about making claims about blue-collar workers whose motivations you really don’t need to impugn to make your point. My family members (mother, father, brother) have all worked in routine assembly jobs – my father still does, in fact, and for the better part of his career, he did so as a UAW member.

    It’s quite possible to take pride in one’s work wherever you might work. It can be quite satisfying, too, to be a skilled craftsperson who lays a bead that won’t crack and endanger the lives of drivers, for example.

    So…easy there, slugger.

    You aren’t wrong to point out differences between union politics for manufacturing jobs vs. faculty unions. I agree with you that there are key differences, including the question of the schedule. Another you might have mentioned to make your earlier point is related to our “product” as academics – it’s, as Charlie Heston would say, People! That complicates things, certainly. We do care about people differently than we might care about Engines, I will grant you that.

  5. Kelly and Bill– fair enough. I have had lots of students who come to EMU either as the children of factory line workers or as factory line workers themselves, and the sense that I get from most of them is that one of the reasons why they are in college is to escape that life. But you are both right: it’s not right to impy that these folks don’t take pride in their work and they don’t care.

    But two other thoughts. First, what Bill also said: there is a difference between union workers who are making products like cars and those that are in the “people business” in some kind of service– fire fighters, nurses, police officers, teachers, professors, etc. This is one of the reasons why these strikes are said to be “illegal,” though not criminal. Now, I will grant you that the person who sticks in the headlight or the craftsperson who does the welding probably takes pride in their work; but I don’t think they have the same level of “guilt” about walking off the job. When auto workers are on strike, the basic impact (besides the stress and lack of money and all of that) is cars don’t get made. When college professors go on strike, our students (and all of their plans and goals and dreams) suffer. And I think the administration is using our own humanity and compassion to guilt us back to work. You can’t tell me that the auto worker who takes pride in her or his work can be guilted back onto the job the way a professor can.

    Second, and I think this is what I was really trying to get at when I posted this late last night, the same strategy industries use to bust unions via a lockout doesn’t really work in higher education. As someone commented earlier, before Northwest Airlines busted up its mechanics union, they had arranged for replacement mechanics to be on the job or ready for the job. My father, who used to be in management for John Deere for years and years (though not involved in union stuff, really) told me that the last time there was a really volitile strike where he worked, upper management made quite the production out of training supervisors and middle-mangagement to do the factory jobs before the strike.

    Now, how is that working here? Well, the official EMU line was that classes were being taught by “qualified substitutes.” That isn’t happening. Even with the glut of qualified academics in fields like English, I don’t think there’s any way they could get qualified people to keep the place running while the faculty strike like this simply because gathering up that many people with those kinds of qualifications just isn’t that easy.

  6. Yes – as a union busting tactic, the idea that you can fire everybody and bring in new people is pretty stupid. In fact, and I think it was one of your student commentors who made this point rather eloquently, it is on the point of “quality instruction via highly qualified faculty” that the Union’s interests are directly in line with those of the students and the people of Michigan, for that matter. If I were the Union, I would push this message out to the media in a major way:

    What this strike is essentially about is what is best for Michigan’s future…

    what kind of education do you want to have available for your kids?

    what kind of education will keep Southeast Michigan competitive for companies in the information economy considering whether to locate there?

    producing the best and the brightest means attracting the best and brightest to deliver a high-quality education for EMU students…

    You get the idea.

  7. I seem to notice a reoccuring misrepresentation on your blog. The situation at EMU is not a lock out. It is a strike. There is a very real difference. It is the UNION that has decided there should be no classes. The administration asking those faculty members on strike to return to class, not ‘locking them out’.

    Also, since you bring up the auto unions… The ‘schedule’ factor you mention as being a key differentiator proves one point. The union’s decision to strike is playing with the students future. How long are the union members willing to keep students out of the classroom to get the money they want? One week? One month? Any entire semester? Even if the administration returns to the negotiating table, the union has said they will not return to the classroom until they have a contract.

    Regardless of whatever else happens, everyone needs to remember who it is that is keeping students out of the classroom and telling anyone that will listen that they will not return until they get the money they want. The union.

  8. Hey Steve-

    Steve B. and Kelly already said what I wanted about the guilt-free autoworkers, so I’ll let that one rest — your point about union-busting is probably accurate and I know that was your bigger point.

    Related to that, I’ve been following your strike blog fairly closely (while letting my reading of other blogs slide) because of my own connections to the UAW negotations with the NAP (Norfolk Assembly Plant) and Ford regarding whether my father will have a job tomorrow. Watching the coverage in what I consider to be fair coverage in their local paper, the Virginian-Pilot (for which I have to disclose I used to work for), the comments made on the online articles about Ford mimic very closely the range of comments ebing made on your blog this week. Especially in regards to the economy.

    Lots of the comments are from non-Ford people telling the Ford people to stop bitching about losing their $27/hour jobs. They don’t seem to realize it’s not the payscale that’s the issue — it’s the bigger-picture reasons why Ford is choosing to close the plant, which I might call a ‘lack of global conscience’. And also how the plant closing will affect the local economy.

    My dad pointed out a Ford-employee discussion forum, at that I spent some time reading last week. Yes, many of the workers there are disgruntled and could care less about work, but the majority of the posts are about concern for getting back to work. Thankfully, the UAW at the NAP hasn’t had to strike since the early 80s (although my memory may be wrong on that one), and they aren’t striking now — just negotiating whether the plant will close in 2008, like Ford said, or earlier due to the downturn in the schedule of vehicle purchases.

    Anyways, it’s a loose connection here, and I need to run so I can’t make it more coherent, but I just wanted to say Good Luck! I am behind your union efforts all the way.

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