The Strike of 2006: Let's work this out…

This blog– well, at least the stuff I’ve had about the strike– has gotten a little too popular for me to just spout off at this delicate moment of twenty-four hours of talks. So I’ll save some of that for my “after the strike” post, which will hopefully be later today. Or at least I hope we’ll be settled by the end of today.

I will say this though: I applaud both the union and the administration for getting back to the table. I am very proud and happy that the union took the high ground here, and I’m hopeful that Fallon was right when he said in his WEMU interview yesterday that there was “plenty left to negotiate” with the administration’s “last and final offer.” And I am also cautiously optimistic that the union has been telling us all the truth since this stand-off began last week, that if we get back together, we can work this out in a day.

Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I’ll be in the office for a full day today. I don’t actually teach today, but I have LOTS to catch up on. And hey, who knows? I might not be able to be there tomorrow….

In the news about all this:

The Strike of 2006: HOPE!

Howard Bunsis sent around an email that said that the strike is suspended for 24 hours for talks starting Tuesday morning– see the press release here.

For right now, I don’t want to type/say anything to fuck this up. So I will sit on my hands until I hear otherwise. I’m just happy to see that there might be a resolution coming.

See this press release from EMU. Boy, talk about wanting to be a fly on the wall to work out this deal….

BTW, I think this means that, at least for tomorrow, I’ll be in for office hours….

The Strike of 2006: Day 11 (Things Brewing)

I will post more here later, but something quick for now: there’s some kind of administrative meeting going on right now (it started at 3 pm, I think) in Welch Hall. Many suits go in… none come out…. I don’t know what this is about, though the rumor was it was an “emergency” meeting. Check your local media….

Also, a shout-out for the Eastern Echo, which had a story on the strike in today’s paper. As far as I can tell, it was the only print media there (though I haven’t looked at the AA News yet today).

Now it’s later…

First, a few headlines/bits of news (besides the Eastern Echo) while I write the rest of this entry:

  • “EMU faculty sticks to pickets” in the Ann Arbor News. Some decent summary of events, including some stuff about picketing at the house. Bunsis is quoted as saying “It’s about much more than money.” They tried to impose their ‘last, best offer.’ We will not accept an imposed contract. … They walked away from the table. That is what united the faculty more than anything.” This is all true, but I think we need to turn it down a notch and start doing some stuff to build an “exit strategy” here.
  • I think WEMU interviewed Bunsis this afternoon, but that link isn’t up on their web site yet. Maybe by the time I go to bed….
  • Besides the other Eastern Echo article, there’s this editioral piece, “Put students first.” The writer, Melissa Lemoire, covers both the administration’s and the union’s side of things, though she is definitely on the side of the faculty in the end. I thought this was a particularly good quote: “The financial burdens of this university should not be placed on the backs of the faculty. It simply isn’t justifiable. And while subsequent offers by the university during the recently-arrested negotiations began to offer more adequate compensation, the administration’s contract proposals still failed to address the other issues the AAUP brought to the table. Finally, the university administration walking out of negotiations nearly 10 hours before the start of classes, while there was still time to reach an agreement, is absolutely inexcusable, and calls into question whose interests they really are representing.”
  • There’s this Detroit Free Press article, “Students benefit from strike,” which is really about students being able to get drop classes and get full refunds later than they normally would. A rumor I heard today: at least 200 students have taken full withdrawals from the university, presumably taking their ball elsewhere.

Today was another day on the picket line, and I have to say it was a lot like the weather: partly cloudy, a bit of sun, a bit of rain, wind, signs of bad weather to come. I walked to campus, ran into some colleagues of mine who were sort of on a “wandering picket” around campus. From there, we headed toward Pray-Harrold, and outside of Marshall and Porter, we saw this:

This is kind of a bad picture (my cell phone), but basically, the Teacher’s Education folks set up a tent and grill and were handing out free hot dogs (which I am sure they bought out of their own pockets) to students, faculty, and anyone else. I wish we had thought about doing this sort of thing a week ago. One of my colleagues and I thought it might be kind of cool to do something sort of “English themed:” maybe some protest poetry and/or labor theater performed while serving students coffee and such. But there’s two problems with that. First, I think there’s a general weariness, one that is not so much about crossing picket lines as it is with getting this over-with. Second, doing something like this would just take more organization than it seems likely to pull off easily.

Anyway, there was more picketing, leafleting, etc. There were notably fewer students on campus today than there were on Wednesday, and I have to think that a big part of that is because of the strike. Presumably, students on a MW or MWF schedule who figured out on Wednesday that their classes would not be happening until this strike mess was done stayed home.

I talked with any number of colleagues today, of course. One common feeling I saw was a resolve to stay on strike combined with growing discomfort with the whole strike mess and also the growing helplessness of feeling caught in the middle. Now, I say this not to suggest that there is division between the faculty ranks on this. When it comes to the basic principle here, that it was the administration who walked out and forced the stupid place we are in, faculty are still united. No one wants to be a part of a union that is in the process of being broken by management, and that includes folks who aren’t all that crazy about the union in the first place.

And faculty, while tired, are still rabid rabid mad. I cannot tell you how many of my colleagues have said or have heard others say that they are “done” with any service work to this university. The general sentiment seems to be that we as faculty do all of these things that are above and beyond the call of duty, especially at the University level (that is, beyond our own departments and majors), and this is the thanks we get. I think we’ll settle, and I think we’ll settle soon, perhaps because we have no choice but to give in. But if that happens, well, it’s gonna be a different place around here.

Still there are a lot of questions for the union too, questions about their strategy (or lack thereof), questions about getting the PR machine up and running, questions about when we should have called the strike, what we should have done about this administrative walk-out, and questions about “loyalty.” I was talking with a colleague of mine who was pretty annoyed with my letter, mainly because I said I didn’t trust the union. “We need to be united,” this person said (basically). “Yeah, but I still don’t really trust the union,” I said. “Not that I mean that bad– I don’t trust the administration on this, either.” Again, I was told we needed to stick together and be loyal and all that.

Well, I guess I’ve got three thoughts on that:

  • I’ve been on strike here three times. In 2000, I was one of the folks who first did the union web site when it was seen by the union folks as a novelty at best. I was on the union Executive Committee and deeply involved with the “Professors for a Democratic Union” that essentially threw out the bad guys and put in the current group. I went back and helped the union do the web site before the last strike (until I was asked to not to do it anymore). And I haven’t crossed a picket line yet. In short, I think my actions for the union speak pretty loudly here.
  • At the same time, just because I am a member and a supporter of the union doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion (one that sometimes differs with the union leadership) and it doesn’t mean I am a member of the Soviet. I didn’t sign a loyalty oath.
  • And third, I am quite capable of having multiple and contradictory ideas in my head at the same time. I do have a Ph.D., after all.

Besides hanging out with colleagues and talking to students, the other event(s) of the day included many various rumors. One with the students now that I think is totally false: that the administration is getting ready to refund students and close the school down for the semester. There are a variety of problems with this for me, but the short answer is I don’t understand how the university cancels classses taught by lecturers, part-timers, grad-students, etc.– classes that are underway– along with all of the classes faculty are not teaching. So, in my opinion, this is unlikely to happen.

Rumor #2: the administration too is mixed about all this. I’ve heard rumors of very high placed adminstrators saying to faculty that they shouldn’t back down; I’ve heard other rumors where administrators are ready to lower the boom on us; I’ve heard rumors of the majority of the deans urging the regents et. al. to resolve this; and I’ve heard that everyone is a “puppet” of the Board of Regents. And I also heard that today’s meeting was no “emergency;” it was just more of the same the progress (or lack of it) on the strike.

The final rumor of the day: there is a lot of “back channel” talk, maybe even much more than we might think between the administration and faculty. Some sort of face-saving move is being sought. But you know what? at the end of the day, someone is going to have to be the “grown up” here, and I have a suspicion that that someone is going to be the faculty and the faculty union.

Anyway, the day ended for me with a gathering that I suppose is a taboo: I invited the grad students I am teaching/working with this year over to my house. I wasn’t teaching a class– actually, it was a lot different from what I would have done had I been teaching a class– but it was an optional meeting/gathering that all of my students attended. But like I said, there wasn’t much “teaching.” We talked a lot about the strike, of course– and by the way, I thought this was a great experience because even these graduate teaching assistants have been around the halls since the beginning of the strike, they still had a lot of questions about just what the hell was going on. We talked about their teaching, and we dreamed of a day when this strike was over.

And we ate pizza and talked about the adventures of teaching first year composition and the dog ran about. A good time was had by one and all, and it was especially nice for me to be in a situation that was sort of like a classroom instead of a picket line.

The Strike of 2006: Welcome back to EMU– NOT

Remember how Fallon said on WEMU this morning that he’s planning on being at the “welcome back to EMU” picnic thing tomorrow, regardless of the strike, because of the importance of greeting students in the new year and all that? Well, according to EMU PR person Pam Young (who I suppose is reporting to the PR consultants right now), tomorrow’s picnic has been postponed until September 20. I wonder if Fallon knows yet.

I hope we’re still not picketing then, but I might be passing on that administrator-served burger….

The Strike of 2006: Day 11 (Fallon on WEMU)

I listened to John Fallon on WEMU this morning. You can take a listen to it yourselfby going to the story on their web site, but here’s some of my notes/thoughts:

  • Talking about insurance, Fallon says the administration’s offer preserves the concept of choice of insurance plans and that there is still a “free” option. That’s sort of true. But keep in mind that the “free” option has a $1500 deductible, which means that the only reason why anyone would take this insurance is if they had a spouse who had insurance. Basically, it’s catastrophic insurance. So the “choice” faculty have is (basically) pay what can add up to be a premimum worth a two or so percent of your salary (relative to what we were paying before, of course) or to just make sure you don’t need to go to the doctor.
  • Fallon conceded that this was less than a 3% pay increase if people pay these other insurance issues. Which again, raises questions about the fab offer EMU is proclaiming on their web site.
  • Fallon said “There’s plenty left to negotiate.â€� Now, wait a minute: If that’s the case, then what’s the deal with this “final best offer” stuff? And why did the adminstration leave the table and thus leave the negotiations not finished?
  • Regarding court action and other legalese stuff, Fallon said “We’re exploring a number of options along those lines.” Again, please EMU administration: if you’re going to seek a court order, seek it now.
  • There’s a welcome back to school party planned for tomorrow that Fallon is planning on attending. Hmm, that might be an interesting place to picket….
  • To me, one of the most telling parts of this interview was how he responded to the questions about what this says about the administration’s commitment to the students at EMU. First, he kind of stumbled a bit and then said “We are ready to go back to the negotiating table at the same moment that faculty are ready to go back to class.â€� Then a little later, Fallon said something like “As a former professor myself and as a parent, I don’t know if I could condone this and behave differently.â€� I think what Fallon is saying here (along with how he is saying it) gets back to what I am beginning to think is the truly perverse lockout strategy of the administration: they’re trying to guilt us back into the classroom, and they are playing off of our inherent sense of decency. That is low, low, below the belly of the serpent in the mud low.
  • The final question was if, by the end of the day, we’d have a sense about where we were going to be going to resolve the strike– court, bargaining table, or something else. Fallon’s response was “Yes, I’m hopeful.” Let’s see….

The Strike of 2006: More on numbers

Someone much more informed than me who shall remain nameless sent, in part, the following alternate way to look at the salaries, based on EMU’s own numbers:

There were 162 associate professors at the start of Fall 2004. The range of salaries (8-month) was from $46,519 (a librarian) to $105,797 (Computer Information Systems in School of Business), which is quite a range! The “median” salary (as Excel calculates it) was $62,101 and there were 56 associate professors earning more than this amound and 106 earning less. The “average” (defined as the total salaries divided by the 162 professors) was $58,147, and there were 81 associate professors earning more than this amount and 81 earning less.

Now, this person cautions that this is 2004/05 data (the EMU web site is citing more recent data), and so that accounts for some of the differences. Still, I have to think that this basic distribution is still in place.

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.

The Strike of 2006: Just what do these numbers mean, anyway?

I’ve been the stereotypical English major/writer-type pretty much my whole life. The last math class I took was when I was a senior in high school, and, while I think that statistics are pretty interesting, I can’t pretend that I understand how they work. But even with this in mind, I thought I’d write a bit tonight about numbers and how they can do funny things pretty quickly. Especially when contracts are involved.

On the EMU web site, they have a press release that claims that the “final offer” would be a great deal. It looks pretty good at first blush; but let’s look closer.

First off, CUPA, the source of the numbers, is essentially a national organization that does Human Resources stuff in higher education. In other words, these numbers don’t exactly come from a neutral source to begin with.

Second, the chart listed there raises a bunch of flags for me. For starters, I don’t make the stated average for associate professors at EMU of $64,319; further, I am at the end of that cycle– that is, I’m actually eligible to apply for full professor this year. In other words, I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of associate professors in fields like English at EMU who are making a lot more money than me.

As best I can figure, the problem with these numbers is the difference between an “average” and a “mean” in statistics. Someone who understands these things can comment and explain them better than me, and there is something on wikipedia that kind of gets at it. But it’s hard for me. Remember, English major. But I do know that these strange averages are really the result of a pretty wide range in salaries. This probably isn’t surprising, but while a starting assistant professor in English might make about $48K or $50K, a starting assistant professor in the College of Business in Information Technologies is probably starting at about $80K or $85K.

Anyway, what would be interesting to see– either from the EMU-AAUP or (God forbid!) the adminstration– is this: how many faculty members in each rank fall below the so-called “average” salary for that rank? How many associate professors make less than $64K?

Third, the additional cost of insurance is TOTALLY left off of this chart, and that additional costs is a big big deal. I know that the common wisdom is “everyone pays for health care” and faculty at EMU ought to pay something too; I don’t really disagree with that, actually. But the money they are making us pay for health care significantly impacts this “giant” raise we’re getting.

Look at it this way (and I stole this example from a colleague of mine): if the administration were offering us a $20,000 a year raise for five years but then said that faculty had to spend $18,000 a year to rent their offices and pay for supplies and such, then the administration wouldn’t be offering us a $100,000 pay raise. Right? (not to give the administration another idea about how to get money out of us…).

It’s the same deal with the insurance. If the administration is offering us 3% a year but the insurance ends up costing us around 2% of our salary, then they aren’t really giving us a 15% pay raise. Right?

Now, the EMU-AAUP’s web site doesn’t do that great of a job explaining the salary numbers either. They have an entry about the meeting on Friday where they presented the numbers, but there isn’t any explanation of the spreadsheet data they include there. Well, here’s my best attempt.

Here’s a chart that represents EMU-AAUP’s estimation of the numbers of the offer the administration is offering:

First off, they’ve changed the numbers in terms of what the insurance is going to cost us, and frankly, they’ve changed it in a way that I don’t completely understand. All I will say is that knocks a couple of points off right off the bat.

Second, there’s inflation. As I mentioned a few days ago, I for one have noticed the inflation factor in my own experiences at EMU since 1998. I make a lot more money now then when I first got here, but it isn’t worth as much for sure. Is it for anyone?

Anyway, the bottom like with all this is the union is arguing that this is really a 1.1% cut, ultimately. Again, that depends on what you do with the inflation numbers though.

Here’s what the union wanted to present (or actually did present– I don’t remember) before the administration walked out of the talks:

You’ll notice it’s a three year versus a five year contract (and I have very mixed feelings about that– I mean, can’t we put this negotiation crap off longer?), the money we’re asking for is a bit more, and a few other things. But I guess for now, I want to point out four things:

  • As it is on paper right here, even with its short-comings, I think the union could have ultimately settled on this deal. Or something very close to it. There are VERY logical negotiating points between these two deals, and, once again, it’s pretty clear from looking at this that we would have been able to reach an agreement. But…
  • … it wouldn’t have made sense for the bargaining team to settle on something at an artificial deadline imposed by the threat of a bullying administration. And remember…
  • ... the administration walked out and forced this crisis. There might come a point where the faculty have to step up and be the grown-up here, but there is no doubt what has caused this misery.
  • Oh, and just to add to the futility and stupidness of it all: my wife figured out that, roughly speaking, a 1% raise to my salary would be about $36 a month, I think after taxes. That would barely be a movie with snacks for my wife and I and our son. This whole, stupid, stoopid stand-off is over about 1/5th what I paid for my son’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party.

The Strike of 2006: Sign the EMU-AAUP Petition

The EMU-AAUP web site has a petition on it that urges the EMU administration’s negotiating team to return to the bargaining table. Here’s a link directly to the petition here. The text of the petition is pretty simple:

The administration of Eastern Michigan University walked out on contract talks with the faculty. Tell Karen Valvo, Chair of the Regents, and President Fallon to return to talks, finish negotiating a contract and let classes begin.

Please feel free to personalize the text in the petition and add your own additional thoughts!

Thanks

I might have phrased things differently, but I think you get the point. And it really doesn’t matter if you think the faculty are a bunch of greedy crybabies; all of us want the talks to continue, right?

So go and sign it!

The Strike of 2006: Day 10 (at the "University" House?)

As I mentioned the other day, I can’t be at the rally/protest/picket at the president’s house this afternoon at 1 pm this afternoon. Instead, I will be at my son’s ninth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese (which I actually don’t mind that much because I like skee ball and I just see it as sort of a kiddie version of Vegas; and the kids have fun, and that’s what counts here).

I’ll try to swing by after the party to see if there’s still anything going on, but if you are reading this and you either are going to go or you went out there, let me know how it went. Feel free to post a comment, send me an email, email me some pictures, etc.

One of my colleagues who isn’t exactly crazy about all this strike stuff in the first place thinks that this picket in front of the president’s house is too personal, is futile, is trying to churn up the past, etc. I could not disagree more. I can’t think of any symbol of administrative hubris and bungling that resonates with the public more than that stupid house. We should have been out in front of that place on day 1.

Slight update:
It sounds like today’s protest was a fairly disappointing and depressing event, really. Not so much in regards of the strike, really; rather, it’s depressing because of the tail-spin this Board of Regents and this president is taking this university. I never thought that anyone could screw things up worse than Kirkpatrick; I’m beginning to think I’m wrong.

Some people think the standoff may have been orchestrated from the beginning because of the way things played out with ultimatums and deadlines. I’m beginning to think that’s totally correct. A lot of ill will has been generated, possibly because faculty really thought this administration was going to have some positive plans to move the university forward, but now it seems just like a few years ago.

The spirit of cooperation between the faculty and the administration is gone.