The end of EMUTalk is near/EMU-AAUP contract negotiatons

I’m always surprised when August arrives. Summer goes along with June and July– and that’s especially true for me this summer since it’s the first time I haven’t taught a summer course since I came to EMU, probably only the second or so time in the last 25 or more years. That’s not to say that I haven’t been working at all– I’m doing sabbatical things, I was involved in EMU’s first Cyberdiscovery camp, I’ve done a bit of quasi-administrative work, and so forth. Still, the summer pace is slower and the summer schedule is a bit more abstract, even “lazy.” But when August rolls around, I know that it means that the end of summer is near.

And with this summer, the end of EMUTalk is also near. I won’t be renewing the domain name or server space when the bill comes due this September– though technically, if someone else wanted to start up their own version of a site with the EMUTalk.org domain name, I suppose they could. Also before September, I am trying to figure out a way to download the entire site and then post it someplace as a file– that is, while it wouldn’t be an active blog anymore, it would at least be available as a “text” for anyone who is interested. If anyone knows the technicalities of converting a wordpress site into one big file, let me know.

But this is not to say that these kinds of posts/comments/discussions are disappearing entirely. For one thing, the EMUTalk Facebook discussion group already has 72 members– and you can join too!  Just login to your Facebook account and either click that link or search for EMUTalk. For another, I will continue to blog about these kinds of things at stevendkrause.com (including this post!), and I am thinking that I will be rearranging my site into more distinct categories, one of which will be “EMU.” Stay tuned.

Anyway, the one thing that is going on this summer that is EMUTalk-like news is faculty contract negotiations. There’s a meeting on Tuesday, August 4 at noon in Roosevelt Auditorium. According to Susan Moeller’s email to faculty the other day, this is the meeting where the bargaining team will show the administration’s first offer in terms of money and benefits. I won’t be making it to this meeting (I’ve got other plans), but I hope to hear from some folks who go here in the comments. But I don’t recall a meeting like this with the faculty this early in the process.

I think this is a positive thing and a pretty good indication of changing times. In the past, it seems like we would have a faculty meeting like this later in the negotiating process, and during one of these late August/early September meetings, the bargaining team has asked for a vote to authorize a strike, and sometimes, it would get real ugly real fast. Nowadays, it seems like the administration and the union have been able to get along and negotiate with each other in a much more (for lack of a better word) “mature” fashion.

The other thing that feels different now than things felt in the past is even the less than techno-sophisticated EMU-AAUP has a blog of sorts where we’re getting regular updates from the union about the negotiation. It’s not exactly a freewheeling and open discussion space, and the site itself is kind of a work in progress, better than what they had before but still not quite ready for prime-time, IMO. For example, take a look at the masthead picture on the negotiations blog:

negotiationsblog

As far as I can tell, that’s a picture of some building in Germany; I certainly don’t recognize that as an EMU building, and I’m pretty sure there’s no signage for the “Stadthalle” in Ypsilanti. Sure, maybe I’m picking at nits here, but that’s a pretty easy problem to fix.

Anyway, if you look at the actual updates on that site, it looks like things are moving right along. A few of the things that I’ve noticed (because they might indirectly impact me) are dealing with the uneven distribution of overload teaching and summer teaching; faculty won’t be able to be on full release to do administrative work; big changes to the graduate council and also electing the president of the faculty senate directly from faculty; more FRFs; and contractually mandated help with Concur. So as long as we get a modest raise and insurance costs remain about the same, then I think we’ll be in good shape.

Anybody have any other thoughts on the negotiation process so far?

EMU-AAUP contract negotiations and an eye on the future

By the way, this is a post I’m writing for both stevendkrause.com and for EMUTalk.org and it’s the kind of thing I’ll keep posting on stevendkrause.com once the sun that is EMUTalk.org sinks below the horizon for good in September or so.

The faculty union, the EMU-AAUP, is in the midst of contract negotiations this summer, and so far, so good. I have no detailed or inside knowledge about what’s going on, but I have chatted with a few colleagues who “know better,” and this is what has happened so far (at least according to the EMU-AAUP web site):

  • There is nothing particularly contentious on either side of the table right now. Probably the biggest fight is going to be over administration’s contribution to TIAA-CREF because the administration changed the way this works for new administrators coming to EMU so that it is a noticeably worse deal than it is right now. It’s more complicated than that, but I guess what it boils down to is the administration wants to pay less for retirement than they do right now, and the faculty obviously don’t like that idea.
  • Apparently, faculty at EMU have fallen behind our peers in terms of salaries and such, and given that the finances and enrollments at EMU are generally pretty solid, we will probably see a decent enough raise both in terms of a flat percentage and also in terms of the “bump” between assistant and associate and associate and full. Of course, the union continues to want to negotiate these raises as a flat percentage, which benefits the highest paid faculty at EMU. It is no wonder that the leadership of the EMU-AAUP has been dominated by faculty in the College of Business and the College of Technology, at least that’s pretty much been the case since I’ve been here.
  • There will almost certainly be some kind adjustment in health insurance, though that’s just an educated guess based on the fact that there has been some kind adjustment on health insurance with every contract I’ve seen.
  • The EMU-AAUP site has a blog of sorts where they have been posting updates to the contract negotiations so far, and things seem to be going smoothly. It’s early of course, and they always start with the less contentious stuff, but it looks like there will be some kind of new language/rules on student conduct, there are some changes to the way contracts work for tenure-seeking faculty that makes things a little easier, and there’s going to be some kind of “electronic dossier system” that will end the ridiculous stacks of binders and such that faculty submit for tenure and promotion and the like.

So while I wouldn’t want to predict too much, I’m not too worried about this contract cycle. I’m frankly a lot more worried about what happens next.

The next contract will be the first under Michigan’s change to a “right to work” state, which means that workers in a bargaining unit (in this case the faculty) have the right to “freeload:” that is, the union will continue to represent all faculty for the purposes of negotiations and for grievances, including faculty who decide to not pay their union dues. If enough faculty opt out of paying the dues, the union will be weaker and eventually it could go away.

Just to make matters worse (as reported in Inside Higher Ed here, “Threat to Faculty Unions”), there’s a case that the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear next year that could further weaken public sector unions. I’m not sure it would make matters worse in Michigan or not because the IHE article makes it sound that if the court decides that a forced “fair share” fee to a union is unconstitutional, then all states would become “right to work” states.

Either way, the future is worrying. Up until this point, the union hasn’t really had to do much in the way of convincing faculty that the union was a “good idea” because everyone had to pay their dues regardless of how they felt about it. Now if the union doesn’t pay close enough attention to the faculty as a whole, they will risk losing members.

I don’t think there is going to be a bunch of faculty who abandon the union anytime soon, especially in the current unpredictable climate higher education is in, and, as I have said many times before, I am all for the union. At the same time, I think the EMU-AAUP has to make some subtle changes in how it does things.

First, it needs to continue to be responsive to the constituency generally and not just to those who are loudest. A really subtle example of what I mean: the EMU-AAUP opened contract negotiation season with this video that depicts the “battle” that as about to come as akin to one of good versus evil and with all of the drama and special effects of a summer blockbuster. Now, I get that this is a parody and it’s supposed to “fire up” the base and all of that. But a lot (most?) faculty don’t see the administration strictly as the “them” that the “us” is fighting, and the “we’re here to battle” is not exactly a tone to take at the start of what can hopefully become a mutually beneficial negotiating process.

And along these lines, I think the union has to be a little more careful in some of its communication and sometimes knee-jerk responses. A good example of this for me personally is the whole Yik Yak mess: if the EMU-AAUP had held on to its initial position of banning Yik Yak on campus (they seemed to have backed off on that), I probably would have opted out of union dues as a matter of public protest. It’s easy for me to imagine lots of other scenarios where the union leadership does something that ticks off enough people to cost them a lot in dues.

Second, I think the EMU-AAUP needs to do more to emphasize the positive, and there really is a lot of positive with the union. They need better PR and better communication. They’re starting to do that with the revamped web site (though I think there are a lot of clunky elements to the new design), but I think it needs to go further than that. Rather than assuming that all faculty see the obvious benefits to the union, the EMU-AAUP needs to sell itself a bit better than it has done in the past.

Like I said, I don’t think faculty are going to leave the union anytime soon. The one percent or so of salary that faculty pay in dues is definitely worth it to me (though one thing the EMU-AAUP might do– if this is possible– is to have more of a sliding scale on dues that is tied to salary and/or rank, which would make the incentive for lower paid faculty to skip out on dues even less– just a thought). At the same time, the future of the EMU-AAUP and of academic unions generally seems murky to me.