The Strike of 2006: Day 7 (Picketing, Rumors, Dark Days)

It was another day on the picket line– a hot one, too. I have to remember to get on some sunscreen the next time I go out there, which, I predict, will be tomorrow morning. There seems no sort of settlement or even a renewal of talks anytime soon, even though I can think of NO ONE who does not both of these things, not faculty, students, adjuncts, lecturers, staff, administrators, NO ONE.

Well, not no one, maybe. I’m not sure the top leadership of the administration or the top leadership of the union are ready for this to end.

Anyway, I started out the day at Pray-Harrold, the building where I teach, even though I am not scheduled to be on campus at all today. Mostly, I passed out flyers and stickers to students. One thing I discovered the other day: it’s really hard to hold a picket sign and to hand out flyers to students. Maybe, if we’re out long enough, I’ll get the dexterity to do both.

Students still seem to be very much behind us. I talked with lots of students who had words of encouragement, lots of students who had questions, lots who were interested in learning more about the issues. And sure, there were plenty of students who were either apathetic or had just probably had enough.

Curiously, there were not administrators out there talking to students. At least not as far as I can tell.

Lots and lots of students were wearing their “I Support the Faculty” stickers and the buttons that we have been passing out that say the same thing have become a coveted item. By the way, here’s a picture of my last of these buttons:

I Support My Faculty

I’ll give it out tomorrow, I hope.

There were more student protests, small but large and enthusiastic. While I was hanging around/picketing outside of Pray-Harrold, a group of roving student protesters came by:

More Student Protesters

Slight tangent #1: I don’t want to be too critical of the way the EMU-AAUP is running things, and I realize that I have the benefit of not actually being at the office making various decisions. But in a situation like this, it’s time for the union to get some outside help with things like Public Relations and event organization. I’m not saying that we need to replace Bunsis as a spokesperson– I think he’s doing fine– and by “outside,” all I mean are members of the faculty who are not on the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP. We have a couple of PR and print journalism folks in our department who probably would have been happy to help. As I understand it, the PR unit of the EMU-AAUP is pretty much Howard. /tangent

Oh, one more fun-fact about picketing by Pray-Harrold: I tried to hand a leaflet to one of the few faculty who has crossed the lines, none other than former provost (and by “former,” I mean he was asked to not do that job anymore) Paul Schollaert. He didn’t take one.

With a couple colleagues, I marched over to the construction area for the new union and then to one of the construction enterances. The union has pickets here because there are a variety of unions that won’t cross lines, and, apparently, we’ve been reasonably effective in disrupting some deliveries and such at EMU. As I understand it, one of these colleagues has a couple stories to share about run-ins with the campus police and turing around trucks with her sign.

Rumor #1 (though I should point out that all of these rumors come from fairly reliable sources; I can’t just confirm the truth of these things independently): Speaking of disrupting things around here, I heard the other day that a picket line stopped a Coca-Cola delivery truck. The driver stopped the truck in the street; I guess he was a Teamster or something. He came over and talked to the strikers politely enough while an unmarked white van came up. A guy got out of the van and started unloading soda from the big delivery truck and into the smaller van. When the strikers asked what was going on, the driver said “that’s a supervisor.”

Rumor #1b: The same thing has happened with UPS. While the delivery guys in the UPS union won’t cross picket lines, their supervisors will.

Either way, it’s not a perfect “ring of steel” around the university. But it’s pretty good.

After some picketing, I headed over to Bombadill’s to hold some quasi-office hours for students, which for me this term means graduate assistants who are teaching first year composition.

This leads me to tangent #2: One of the many things this strike has made me think about a lot lately is what exactly constitutes “work” for a faculty member. Both the union and the administration have concentrated on the most visible work faculty do, which is teach. But I would say that less than a third of my work involves classroom teaching. So much more of my job is meetings, scholarship, advising, answering emails from students, duties as assigned, etc., etc. And this doesn’t even cover the release time I get to do quasi-administrative work. I spent about 3 or 4 hours on Monday going through a backlog of email, most of it from students seeking advising or making inquiries about our programs. Is this “work?” Because of my Interim WPA duties, I feel a certain obligation to at least be available to the graduate students teaching for the first time. It would seem awfully inhumane to not be there to these folks during a really really stressful time for them. And, by the way, as far as I can tell, everyone had a fine first day teaching experience.

Clearly, I am not the only one who made some personal decisions about what work they would and wouldn’t do while on strike. When I walked into Bombadill’s, it was like EMU in exile. Someone was conducting some version of a class in the front part of the place– forty or so students sitting around while the prof lectured. In the back, some folks were working on a grant; as they said, the such-and-such (I don’t know if it was the NSF or NEH or whatever) has deadlines that have nothing to do with the strike. /tangent

Rumor #2: Speaking of the teaching part of things: it seems pretty clear to me that the great majority of courses that are supposed to be taught by faculty aren’t being taught by anyone at all. I know of at least one department head who has told lecturers and part-timers that there was no way he/she would ask non-tenure-track faculty to teach the faculty’s classes. This is not the only story I’ve heard along these lines. In short, it’s just patently untrue that the university is running just hunky-dory without faculty.

Anyway, this part of my day ended with a couple of conversations with administrative-types in positions of knowing some things. I won’t be mentioning names, obviously.

Rumor #3: The union has been feeding the faculty a pack of lies, they knew they were going on strike back in July, the union was really the one that pushed the administration out the door Tuesday night, etc., etc., etc. I don’t really think these things are true, but at the same time, I don’t think they are false or lies, either. I think it’s just an indication of it all depends on your perspective and where you get your information, and if you’re on the administration side of the fence, you get a different story.

However, as I pointed out to this person, the fact remains that a) it was Fallon et al who issued this “take it or we’re leaving” letter, and b) they left the table. And as I pointed out to this administrative-type, the fact of the matter is the administration’s bargaining team left the table. Period.

But let’s just pretend this person was right and the union bargaining team wasn’t really negotiating anymore, and they were the ones forcing the strike. All the administration team had to do was stay at the table. If they had done that, we probably would have had a deal early Wednesday morning. If, for some reason, the union team still hadn’t agreed to the deal, all the administration would have had to have done is release their last offer and then let the union bargaining team explain that one to the faculty.

In short, if the administration tries to break the union with ultimatums, as they appear to be doing here, all they are going to do is piss faculty off and create a storm of bad publicity. If the administration wants to minimalize the role and appeal of the faculty union, the best thing they could do is make decent offers to the faculty in May instead of August, make them pubic, and spare us all the opportunity for these stand-offs.

Rumor #4: Folks on the Board of Regents, who hate Howard Bunsis with the passion of a 1,000 burning suns and who see him as synonymous with all of the faculty at EMU, think that they ought to fire all of us ala the Air Traffic Controllers in the Reagan era. Now, as we talked about this more, I think what this administrator was really saying is that there is a portion of the Regents who would opt for this, but not a majority.

The Board of Regents and the administration probably hate Bunsis, sure. He’s a bulldog and a passionate guy. But as a faculty person, I kind of look at it this way: the administration pays Jim Greene several hundred dollars an hour to play super-duper hardball in these talks. What do you think most of the faculty think about him? And really, are faculty supposed to respond to these rather, well, mean tactics with butterflies and sunshine?

Besides, I’m pretty sure that before they actually fired us, the administration would have to give faculty some kind of notice. And let me just say this right now for the record: if I get a letter or an email or something from the administration that says “quit this strike stuff right now or you’re fired,” I’m going back to work. I’d be pretty cranky about it and I think it would be devestating to the institution and I’d make a point of making these feelings known at every possible opportunity and I would probably seek other employment, but I’d go back to work.

Anyway, I’m not too worried about this, really. For one thing, as another administrator-type said to me today, it’d be a paperwork nightmare.

Rumor #5: Fallon and Valvo either didn’t talk with anyone on the negotiating team or folks in the provost office before they sent their now infamous letter. Or maybe they did talk with people and sent it anyway despite the advice.

Okay, this last one really is just a guess/rumor. But I think it’s a good one.

The Strike of 2006: If you want to sign on to my letter…

… just let me know. I’ve received a handful of positive responses (none negative yet), and I’d be more than happy to present this as some kind of electronic petition/letter/etc. I could just add “on behalf of the following people” at the end, and resend a copy of it to the powers that be, to the Fallon and Valvo and the other board of regents, to the Ann Arbor News, whoever.

To be a part of it, do me a favor. Either:

  • Add a comment here with your name (the real one, please!), and how you fit into this picture (professor, adjunct, senior, incoming student, parent, etc.).

    Or…

  • Send me an email message. My email address is skrause at emich dot edu (obviously, there’s an “@” and a “.” where I say “at” and “dot,” but I get enough spam messages as it is.

The Strike of 2006: My Email Response to the VP of Academic Affairs

Last night, everyone at EMU got an email from the “VP of Academic Affairs” (though it was signed by the Hartmut Hoft, who is really the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences). Here is the email that I sent to them (and also to Howard Bunsis) in response:

*********

Dear Dean Hoft, Provost Loppnow, Professor Bunsis, and anyone else who happens to be reading this:

Thanks for your “Negotiation Update” for 09/06/06. I read your email with interest because, obviously, I have been following the negotiation process closely and I have some strong feelings about how these talks have been going. I’ve also been writing quite a bit about the strike in a blog space that I keep that normally has to do with more scholarly matters, and I should tell you that I intend to publish this letter in that space at some point.

I am writing now to urge the administration to return to the bargaining table. I am certain that if the administration’s team returns to the table, we can get a contract not unlike the one that your team submitted before walking out of the talks Tuesday night. Return to the talks so I can return to the classroom.

Like all of you, I am an academic. My Ph.D. training was in rhetoric and much of my teaching and scholarship involves strategies for persuasion and the presentation of evidence in various forms of argumentation. As a result of this background (not to mention my “real world” experiences of working at Eastern since 1998, and working at other universities as a faculty member, part-time instructor, and graduate instructor since 1988), I think of myself, in these and many similar matters, as a skeptic.

Because of this skepticism, I do not entirely trust the EMU-AAUP. The current incarnation of the union is certainly much better than the dark days of my brief experiences on the Executive Committee. But for complex reasons, I am quite certain that rank-and-file faculty are not getting the complete story from the union about the contract, and about it’s strategies at the bargaining table. Let me stress that I believe that the people currently on the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee and the bargaining team are not attempting to be devious or deceiving; I just don’t think I’m getting enough information to accept the EMU-AAUP’s interpretation without question.

However, I don’t entirely trust the administration either. I could use the same phrasing in this paragraph as the last one: I think the current incarnation of the administration is better than the recent past, but I think (again, for complex reasons) we’re not getting the full story about the strategies they are using, and so forth. I don’t think the administration is being completely candid about what money the institution does (or does not) have, and I think there a variety of both good and bad reasons for this lack of information. Again, let me stress that I do not think that the folks on the administration’s side of the bargaining table, especially the people likely to get this message, are devious or deceiving: I just don’t think I’m getting enough information to accept the administration’s version of events without question.

With this in mind, you can imagine my mixed feelings about the negotiation update sent by the administration. On the one hand, it strikes me as a fairly reasonable offer, one where the salary compensation, the insurance options, and other provisions of the contract seem fair. On the other hand, I knw that there are many things here that the administration is conveniently leaving out or minimizing. This is, after all, a basic strategy of how to present evidence in order to persuade an audience.

Conversely, the union is taking a similar strategy by bringing attention to the weaknesses in the administration’s offer, pointing out what it lacks, and raising questions about the basic math of exactly how much compensation the faculty can plan to receive. Again, this is the sort of thing we teach in a basic argumentative writing classes.

So, what am I to do? How am I supposed to interpret this offer from the administration, which, at face value, seems like an acceptable deal? How am I supposed to decide who to believe?

Well, for me, the tipping point began with the letter that President Fallon and Regent Chair Valvo had Dean Hoft hand the EMU-AAUP negotiating team on Sunday night. I can only speculate on the intentions of this letter, and I know that the initial reason publicly given for this unprecedented fixed deadline was a desire to “hurry things along” for the first day of class. But I can tell you that the actual effect of this letter was to galvanize my faculty colleagues. I cannot tell you how many conversations I had via email this past weekend and during the day while picketing on Tuesday with fellow faculty who were perplexed and angered by this rather thinly veiled threat. Many of my colleagues who either share my skepticism about the union or are simply against the idea of striking were aghast by this letter. As one of my colleagues said in an email to me on Monday of this week, “If we’ve made progress to that point (of the negotiations), I cannot imagine them walking away just because 10 PM hits. And if they do, I’ll almost become enthusiastic about being on strike against them.”

Now, I don’t have any particular inside knowledge about what happened that fateful night Tuesday, and, of course, I am a skeptic. But here’s what I do know, largely because the other side has not contradicted these claims, and also because I was outside of Boone Hall Tuesday night:

* The administration didn’t provide the faculty the data they requested on health care until after we were on strike.

* The so-called “last, best offer” was presented to the EMU-AAUP at about 9:45 pm or so– not exactly a lot of time for the team to mull it over. And yet the faculty team did come up with a counter-offer before 10 pm. (And as an aside: I have a gut feeling that the administration could have made something similar to this “final offer” in June.)

* At 10 pm (perhaps a little earlier, depending on which watch you were looking at), the mediator left the building, walked across Cross, got in his car, and drove away.

* About ten minutes after that, the administration’s negotiation team left Boone Hall. It was not a pretty site. Marching to the tune of the loud and persistent protester chant “Talk, Don’t Walk,” the administration’s team exited Boone, walked out to the sidewalk on Washtenaw/Cross, and walked around to a side entrance of Welch Hall. I won’t speak for everyone, but I for one was angry, perplexed, and ashamed, and, simultaneously, I felt sorry for that group of administrators who, I hope, were merely following orders.

In any event, three things are very clear to me at this stage. First, this action by President Fallon and Regent Valvo has been a tremendous blunder and has had almost the exact opposite impact of its stated purpose. Instead of forcing a “quick end” to the contract negotiations, the administration’s ultimatum has angered and galvanized faculty, and it has further eroded the rank-and-file’s trust in the administration. And, looking at this as a rhetorician, it seems to me that this move has also strengthened the union’s hand.

Second, neither side is likely to simply come back to the bargaining table at this stage, I think largely because this contract negotiation has morphed into a power struggle between the upper administration and the union. There are many colorful euphemisms to describe this stand-off; I believe one that is “PG-rated” is “pissing contest.” Caught in the middle are faculty like myself and the students we would like to be teaching.

Third, as is evident in the material sent to the university community with this negotiation update, the two parties were not that far apart. Glancing through the materials as they are presented here and without the context of actually being at the bargaining table, I can see that there are still some issues that I think need to be resolved, things like the rate of pay for continuing education classes, the rate at which we get to the 1% addition to TIAA-CREF, the missing language about hiring more faculty, etc. So it is not a deal that I think our bargaining team should have automatically taken. Still, it seems to me that this package is close enough, and it seems abundantly clear to me that if the administration had stayed at the table with the union, faculty would have been in classrooms on Wednesday.

So, it is with all that in mind that I urge the parties to come together and finish this deal. If the administration is planning on getting some sort of court order to force faculty back into the classroom, I suggest they get on with it. The union has suggested binding arbitration to resolve this matter, an option that seems extremely fair to me. And, of course, the union has never left the bargaining table, figuratively or literally, as I understand it. The administration’s team could return on a moment’s notice and I am sure we could have a deal.

I look forward to the end of this contract dispute and getting back into the classroom. It will take a tremendous amount of work on everyone’s part to restore some sense of trust tainted with academic skepticism after this strike is over, but I for one am willing to do that work. But I will end this now because I am late for my spot with my fellow faculty members on the picket line, the place I will be until the negotiations resume and a deal is made.

Sincerely,

–Steve

Steven D. Krause
Associate Professor
Writing Program Coordinator/Interim Director of First Year Writing
Department of English Language and Literature
Eastern Michigan University | Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-487-1363 | http://www.stevendkrause.com

The Strike of 2006: Yeah WEMU, Boo Michigan Public Radio

I just wanted to post a shout-out to WEMU for their very good coverage of the strike to date. If you visit their homepage, they have links to some (all?) of the morning interviews they’ve been doing with folks from both the administration and the union. Great stuff; makes me proud to be a WEMU contributor.

Conversely, I want to give a bit BOOOOOOOO!! to Michigan Public Radio, which has done an unbelieveably piss-poor job of covering the strike at EMU. I know that most Ann Arborites and most of the folks over at U of Michigan don’t even realize that Eastern’s campus is only eight or so miles away from theirs, but this lousy coverage is really unexcusable. For example, this story linked to their web site sounds almost exactly like the EMU press release on homepage. Makes me glad to be a WEMU contributor.

So c’mon, Michigan Public Radio! Chariety Nebbie (SP???), somebody over there, get in the car, make the 10 minute commute to that distant and mysterious land, Ypsilanti, and do a little reporting!

The Strike of 2006: From this afternoon's student rally

I couldn’t be at the student rally this afternoon, but one of my colleagues was there. He sends these words and pictures:

“Today (9/6) at 4:00 a sizeable (~40?) group of students gathered in front of Welch hall to voice their support for the faculty in the ongoing strike and negotiations for a fair contract. They began by cheering beside the fountain, and after 10 minutes or so, as their numbers grew, a bull-horn emerged, and the chant extended, and they marched around, and then THROUGH Welch hall, calling on the administration to come back to the negotiation table.

“We’re here! Where are you?
Administration EMU-
No contract–No class!

“While the numbers were by no means huge, many of the faculty who witnessed it were moved by the gesture.”

I’ll mention two other things: first, as my colleague told me, these students were LOUD, complete with a bull-horn. To top it all off, they took their rally, bull-horn and all, through Welch Hall (e.g., where the administrators live). Pretty cool, and the thing is it’s not like the administration is going to get them arrested.

Second, my wife and son and I drove by Welch Hall at about 5:30 or so, and there was still a pretty good-sized group out there. Anyway, I for one certainly appreciate the support.

Here are some pictures:

The Strike of 2006: Day 6

Let me start witha quick “news round-up” as I have it from stuff I can find on the web:

  • “Strike at EMU leave students feeling confused,” from the Detroit Free Press. It’s confusing to everyone, actually. One quote from the article though speaks to a slightly larger issue: “‘A lot of teachers are sending e-mails to their students saying that class is canceled, but the administration is saying something different,’ said (Amanda) Hamon, a 19-year-old sophomore from Bryan, Ohio (and who is also the editor of the student paper, Eastern Echo. ‘Students don’t understand it’s a personal choice; it’s up to the professors. Not all of the professors are in the union.'” See, this is kind of a problem: our own students, even students who are presumably informed (like the editor of the student paper) don’t really understand the differences between a tenure-track faculty member (professors, associate professors, and assistant professors), a full-time lecturer, a part-time adjunct instructor, and a graduate assistant. Well, even though we might all look the same and we all give grades the same way, it’s the first group, the tenure-track faculty, who are a) much more empowered than the other folks who teach and look like professors, and b) on strike. Also, if you are a professor (or associate or assistant professor) at EMU, then you are in the union. There are a few– and I mean like 10 or 20 people– who have opted out of the union, but that’s about it. The other people who teach at EMU– lecturers, part-timers, instructors, grad students, etc., etc.– are not professors.
  • “Negotiations between EMU, faculty union break down,” in the Detroit News online. There’s a kind of throw-away line in the story: “The administration ‘walked away’ from negotiations after the union made a counter-proposal, according to the AAUP Web site.” The reporter seems to have put “walked away” in quotes to suggest it was a sort of metaphoric thing. Nah, they literally walked away. I watched it.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an entry about the strike on its daily news blog. It’s a pretty good story, too. I put a comment on it pointing to this blog….
  • “Classes start at EMU today with professors on strike,” in today’s Ann Arbor News. I’m getting this off of the web site, so I’m curious to see where it’s located in the paper– I hope page one. Anyway, my favorite quote: “‘There will be someone to greet the students in every class,’ said Karen Valvo, chairwoman of the EMU Board of Regents, in an interview Tuesday night.” Well, I wasn’t in the classrooms or anything today, but I know that that didn’t happen.
  • Finally, I came across the university’s official strike information page today; though to be honest, I don’t think it’s that “informative,” really.

Anyway, my day today with the strike has been pretty simple. I went down to Pray-Harrold to picket at about 11 am and I was there until about 1:30 pm or so. Stood around with my sign, passed out fliers, talked with my faculty colleagues, and I talked with a lot of students. I think the students at EMU are really going to help the faculty stay strong on this, mostly because of where a lot (if not most) of our students come from. See, over at the University of Michigan, the students are more than likely to have parents who are in some version of “management;” at EMU, our students are more than likely to have parents (or other relatives) in some version of “labor.” My wife and both have received several emails from students wondering about what to do because (as one said) “no one in my family has ever crossed a picket line.”

Picketing today reminded me quite a bit of picketing back in 2000, which is when we were on strike after the first week of classes. Because faculty were supposed to picket in front of the buildings where they teach and when they teach or hold office hours, we were a lot more spread out than we have been at various rallies and such. So it’s all pretty mellow. We did pass out a lot of information and A LOT of these red stickers that say “I support my faculty” on them. Those are a hit with the students; everyone loves stickers.

From where I was standing, I could see Dennis Beagen talking to a group of faculty in his (I think now former) department, Communications and Theater Arts. I thought the administration said they wouldn’t talk to us anymore? I saw Hartmut Hoft walking from Pray-Harrold toward Welch with an enormous briefcase/shoulderbag of stuff. There was a photographer from one of the Detroit papers there, and I heard that Channel 4 was doing a pretty big story on a different part of campus. And I saw some unidentified people in suits who looked like the were trying to figure out who was picketing, what classes were running, what was generally going on, etc.

Anyway, the talk among faculty was obviously on the administration’s walk-out move last night. Apparently, the administration made an offer that basically boiled down to 3% a year for five years, along with some other things. In principle, this would have probably been okay with me because it would have probably meant, after paying around 2 to 2.5% of my salary in insurance, a very modest raise and not a cut. Predictably, the administration is saying that this is the best deal ever, and the EMU-AAUP says it’s all crap.

Regardless of the interpretation here, the problem is the administration walked away from the table. What saddens/angers me about all this more is if this really was the offer the administration had on the table at 9:45 pm last night, I am certain we would have reached a deal in plenty of time to be teaching classes today. Instead, the talks are at this stupid impasse. Fallon, Valvo, et. al are not likely to back away from their stooopid “take our offer or we’re going home” move anytime too soon. Conversely, the union team clearly has the upper-hand right now. They’re not the ones that walked away from talks; in fact, as I understand it, the negotiating team has set up a table on campus and is waiting for the administration team to come and bargain. (There’s a teeny picture of this on the emu-aaup web site; if anyone has a larger picture, send it to me, okay?)

My best guess/hope is that Fallon, Valvo, et. al will be told– surprise, surprise!– faculty really did go on strike, and they really didn’t teach their classes, and, under pressure, they will reluctantly go back to the bargaining table on Thursday or so. If that happens, I think we’ll have a deal in 24 hours. Or the administration will take us to court and try to get an injunction to force faculty back to work. That probably won’t work; in fact, it’s likely that a judge would force an argeement. But as I’ve said before, I think a court order would be great. Faculty could both teach and be on strike!

The Strike of 2006: Day 5, Part 3 (or, "Talk, Don't Walk!")

Okay, first a small preamble: thanks again to the kind words and thoughts from people who have been reading and posting here, and also telling me either in person or in email that they’ve appreciated what I’ve written. As of now, which as I type this phrase means 11:20 PM on Tuesday, I’ve had 218 page “visits” (which is defined, as I understand it, as someone spending some time and looking at a number of different entries on my site) and 486 page “views” (which is basically someone clicking to the site, probably from a search engine, and then leaving relatively quickly). It’s funny how these things work; for me, the strike is as much a “media event” as it is anything else, which I suppose is perfectly appropriate given my scholarship and writing.

Second, I also want to direct readers’ attentions to Paul Leighton’s Blog, “PaulsJusticeBlog.” Normally, Paul writes/thinks about issues of crime and criminology and stuff like that– from a lefty point of view– but he has been thinking/writing a lot about the strike lately, especially since he’s on the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee right now and hip-deep in the negotiations. So he’s POV is obviously pretty biased, but it’s also pretty informed. He talks a lot on his blog about the nitty-gritty of negotiations. Very useful.

Okay: So, here’s what happened tonight:

I created a podcast/audio file that pretty much captures the night experiences for me (I’ll explain the difference between audio files and podcasts later, or you can read my article in Computers and Composition Online about teaching online classes with blogs. But I digress…). It’s about 9:30 minutes long, it’s an MP3 file, and it’s about 10.9 MB, and it’s linked right here. Just click on the link, and your browser should just play it. Actually, I think it turned out pretty well because I was able to capture some good audio with just my iPod and a microphone attached to it, including the faculty chanting at the adminstration’s team and Howard talking to folks after they left. And, if I do say so myself, I think this file really captures the moment better than these words here. Trust me, it’s worth the download.

But in case you don’t want to/can’t listen to that file, here’s what I thought happened, more or less:

  • By the time I showed up at EMU around Boone Hall at about 9:30 or so, there was already about 100-150 faculty members hanging about with signs and the like– you know, the typical picket/protest.
  • A lot of my colleagues from the English department were there, which I guess proves that people in English studies are “night people.”
  • I actually thought there was a lot of “drama” out there tonight, but not a lot happened when you just boil it down to words– which again is why I hope folks take the time to listen to my podcast/audio file. But what it boiled down to for me is this: 10:00 PM hit and the administration walked away from the table. Simple as that. So one of my faculty colleagues who has remained nameless so far: it looks to me like you’re going to be picketing after all, right? : )
  • I guess the administration had to walk out after this boneheaded threat. But at the same time, I guess I sort of assumed that they would keep talking if we were close to a deal, and, if it is indeed true that the administration was offering us 3% over 5 years, then we probably really were close to a deal. The whole thing seems so SO stupid to me. But it is so clear to me that if there was anyone out there who thought that the faculty were the ones at fault here, that feeling pretty much left as the administrators made their “perp walk” from Boone to Welch. It seems to me that the administration has set themselves up to look pretty freakin’ bad and give the faculty a reason to hold out as long as they possibly can now.
  • And once again, thanks so much to the students who were out in support of the faculty cause. The new guy who is president of student council/senate was out there and told us that students are making signs that say “Student Support Faculty” (or something like that) and plan to be greeting John Fallon at his coffee and doughnuts sessions first thing tomorrow morning.
  • Oh, and channel 4 had a decent enough coverage on the scene, and they tied it to the Detroit teachers walking out and closing down the public schools. I saw the report on the 11pm news, but I can’t find any links on their web site on it.

So, as I always say, we’ll see. I am TOTALLY convinced that if the administration were to come back to the table, we’d have a deal in a matter of a few hours. The real kicker is going to be is if the administration is willing to come back to the table that quickly. Given the “I’ll turn this car around” mode of threats, I’m predicting court action. And I am also predicting that this goes badly for the administration, quite frankly.

The Strike of 2006: Day 5

Part One
I say “part one” because I am sure there will be a “part two” in a couple of hours– I’m going to walk up to the union meeting that’s scheduled for 2 pm. But just a few thoughts for now:

First off, the strike has made this blog quite a bit more popular than it usually is, which is why I changed the header picture– at least for the time-being. How much more popular? Well, I typically get around 25-35 hits a day on this site. Yesterday I had well over 100, and so for today (just shy of 1 pm as I type this), I’ve had 60.

Second, I want to say thanks to the students (or at least folks identifying themselves as students) for the support here, on the picket line, and beyond. While a lot of folks aren’t leaving comments about all this (feel free to do so, btw), so far, I have one “get back to work” sort of comment and the rest have been positive. While picketing today in front of Welch Hall and Boone Hall (apparently negotiations are going on in Boone), lots of people honked their horns long and hard as they drove by. My wife got an email from a student who was very concerned about having to cross a picket line tomorrow on the first day of classes and expressing support. I talked for a while with a guy who is an air traffic controller and a returning student and he expressed his support, and he also told me about the bad situation between the FAA and the air traffic control union/workers, which strikes me as scary.

And on and on. So again, thanks.

We (meaning myself, Annette, and our son– a family of strikers!) picketed briefly this morning, though it bothered Annette’s injured leg and you can imagine how quickly our nine-year old got bored with the whole thing. One of the picket organizers told folks that we had been having an effect on some campus construction projects. The workers in the pipefitters and the electrician unions walked off the site, and the other unionized labor who don’t have a “will not cross a picket line” clause in their contracts have been working slowly. So the mood has been positive, the weather good, etc. Everyone wants to be back in class of course, and I had to miss an orientation for new lecturers today because of all this junk, but the morale seems strong to me. Maybe the administration thought that their “10 pm Tuesday or else” approach might scare some people back to work, but it seems to have had the opposite effect so far.

Anyway, a few numbers that I have heard from either the EMU-AAUP or the newspaper which bring some of this into perspective:

  • Apparently, the administration has come up from its 2% raise the first year all the way up to a whopping 2.25% that first year. They’re still offering 2% for all the other years.
  • There are some telling numbers in an an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Ann Arbor News (written by EMU professor Gregg Barak). According to Barak, “we (EMU) have the fourth highest student-faculty ratio, the fourth highest tuition and the fourth highest spending on administration. But in the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC), we are 11th out of 12 faculty salaries, averaging only $68,000 annually, $7,000 less than the average Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher.” Two additions to the “average salary” thing. To be fair, the entering salaries at EMU– at least in English studies– are pretty competitive. The problem is that salary compression sets in here really fast. And second, I don’t make $68,000 a year, and I have been here for eight years now.
  • According to a flyer the EMU-AAUP is passing out, EMU salaries for faculty are near the bottom when compared to other state schools– 11th out of the 15 public universities. On the other hand, administrator salaries are near the top– 4th out of the 15 public universities. That’s a pretty telling number to me, especially when you consider what I am sure are the top three paying schools for both faculty and administrators, the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State. All of those schools have some pretty fancy programs where some administrators and faculty are making serious money. For EMU administrators to be fourth on that list, well, that’s a crime.

In any event, I’m off now for the meeting. Stay tuned for part 2 later today….

Part Two
And, before I go to bed tonight, I bet there is going to be a part three! More on that in a bit. For now, let me just give a sort of impressionistic/no particular order sort of review of today’s meeting:

  • I would describe the meeting as more of a “pep rally” more than any sort of opportunity to get information. It reminded me a bit of a “State of the Union” address in that there was lots of applause, even one (two if you count the last one) standing ovation for the bargaining team.
  • To the extent that there was information: apparently, there has been some movement in different ways, but the administration still has only come up with a 2.25% raise with .25% going to TIAA-CREF so that after four or five years, we’d be getting another percentage point there. Not a lot of money for sure. I thought where we were at with insurance was a little murky; my sense– and it’s only a sense– is that it’s a forgone conclusion that we’re going to be paying something for insurance. The question is how much and how it will be arranged.
  • Tangent #1: This is just my opinion (one of the great powers of having your own blog), and I really don’t know how many people share this opinion, but I’ll offer it anyway. As I’ve said here before, I don’t really buy the slippery slope/escalator argument that if we start paying for insurance now, then it’s the beginning of the end, that they’ll keep sticking it to us, etc., etc. Or maybe a better way of saying it is this: when you look at national trends, it makes a certain amount of sense for us to pay for some of our insurance. I don’t have a problem with that. And I really don’t know exactly how much the new insurance plan is going to cost me and my wife; the best I can figure is around 2.5%. And while I appreciate and respect the arguments about cost of living and inflation and all of that, I don’t really care about that stuff either. So my goals out of this contract are very modest. All I really care about is I am not willing to take a net paycut. Period. The thing is though there seem to be a lot of faculty who are wanting and expecting a lot more than this. So it’ll be interesting to see where this goes.
  • One of the meeting/rally’s speakers was the lawyer the union hires for labor law issues. He was there to talk about some stuff like picketing, about what the administration could do to us, etc., etc. The short version: apparently, there were some security disputes about where faculty could picket where some security folks were telling faculty picketers that they couldn’t be there with a sign in front of a classroom building. But because these are public spaces where they let groups pretty much practice any act of “free speech” (Lyndon LaRouche people routinely set up where I plan to picket tomorrow, assuming it comes to that), the administration just doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It is possible that we might get docked pay or have benefits cut off or whatever, but the administrative hassles of that would be so great that it seems unlikely. The administration could fire all of us, but that too seems like it’d be an administrative/legal nightmare, not to mention super-duper bad PR. And the administration could go to court, but generally, judges don’t like issuing orders forcing folks back to work, especially if the talks are still going on.
  • Once again, it would appear that the real “bad guy” at the bargaining table is the attorney, Jim Greene. He apparently is the one really running the administration’s side of the table.
  • Fun fact #1: someone on the adminstration’s side of the table supposedly suggested that they could maybe get laid off and/or striking Detroit teachers to cover classes for the faculty. I have to believe that this was actually an administrator’s idea of a joke. Ha-ha.
  • Fun fact #2: the negotiations are taking place in Boone Hall, which is on the corner of Cross (which turns into Washtenaw, the main drag through Ypsi/Arbor) and College Place. This is a very busy intersection, one where the EMU-AAUP have been picketing all day with signs that say something like “honk if you support EMU Faculty.” We were getting LOTS of honking horns, and the negotiators in the room told us at this meeting/rally that they could indeed be heard inside. Nice.
  • There were a couple of people from the National AAUP there, along with some folks from Oakland University’s AAUP chapter, which just wrapped up a contract deal. Basically, these speakers said that this negotiation was important beyond EMU for faculty rights with contracts around the country, that these folks thought we were doing a great job, and that the administration here seemed quite a bit more, uh, “jerk-ish” than at a lot of other schools. The National AAUP is giving us a bunch of money to (potentially) cover expenses, is trying to help us out on a national scale. One of the guys from the national office also commented on the extent to which the union has turned around since the “dark days” of a few years ago, which did indeed bring back some memories for me.
  • Tangent #2: One of the things that kind of concerns me about all of this– and I guess it started to concern me more after this meeting– is this is in some ways kind of a “perfect storm” between the two parties at the negotiating table. The administration, as indicated by their bone-headed ultimatum about walking away from the table at 10 pm tonight, apparently sees it as important to not give in a whole lot more and/or to try to erode the union. The union, on the other hand, has a lot riding on this too. If the EMU-AAUP doesn’t get a good deal this time around, I have to think that some people are going to start wondering what the point of the union is in the first place.
  • And then there was the whole “10 pm or else” thing from the administration. The bargaining team put together a pretty good letter on this, by the way, which is available here. It seemed pretty widely agreed that a) this was a pretty stupid thing for the administration to do, b) it certainly pissed faculty-types off, and c) they are apparently serious. So I for one am heading up to Boone Hall at about 9:30 or so. I think there will be a somewhat informal rally, but I’m also hoping that the local media has been alerted. Man, talk about a photo-op: the union negotiation team sitting at one side of the table, the administration’s empty chairs on the other side. I’m planning on being there tonight, so expect a “part 3” to this post. Stay tuned….

The Strike of 2006: Day Four (or, things get threatening)

Last night, things during the negotiations took a decidedly “hard ball” turn: the administration gave the negotiating team a letter and published a press release (both on their web site here). In what I read as being written in a rather patronizing tone, the letter sort of summarizes the negotiations from the administration’s point of view (the AAUP is not negotiating, the university has made all these great offers, etc., etc.). There’s a nice line on the second page which says a lot to me about the perspective of the institution on all this:

To maintain the viability and competitiveness of EMU in the postsecondary education market, the University must maintain a delicate balance between the needs of our faculty and other employees, and the need to keep tuition and fees at levels that do not unduly burden our students and families. We hope you can respect the fiscal limitations and breadth of responsibility that weigh so heavily upon the University. (Emphasis mine).

Just to pause here for a moment: first off, I was under the impression that we were a state-supported and non-profit institution. So this phrase about “viability” and “competitiveness” in the “postsecondary education market” is a pretty weird one to me. Second, it’s telling about who we’re dealing with here. Whenever the administration feels like its employees are costing too much, we always hear that universities like EMU need to behave more like a business. But whenever employees and faculty point out things that they need to get “the business” done– reasonable building facilities, technical support, fair pay, etc.–the administration basically says “well, we’re just a poor university, doncha know.” I believe there’s a line here about having cake and eating it too.

Anyway, the letter goes on and throws down the gauntlet in these couple of sentences:

If we have not reached a resolution by 10:00 p.m. on September 5, 2006, or if the strike has not been officially ended by that time, regretfully the University will have no recourse but to immediately suspend all further negotiations with the EMU-AAUP until the strike has ended and all faculty have resumed the performance of their full professional responsibilities to the University and our students. In addition, the University will pursue such other actions it deems appropriate under the provisions of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act, or other applicable law.

Whoa! Dudes! This is so wrong in so many different ways:

  • Obviously, this is a threat, and I think it’s an unprecedented one at that. Not to mention an incredibly unproductive threat.
  • I think that the folks in the administration ought to have taken a page from the Bush administration’s failures at foreign policy and recognized that whenever you make a threat like this (do “x” or else), the natural reaction of the “threatee” is “oh YEAH?!” I mean, I wanted to settle this thing before it even started. I, like I think most of my colleagues, am reluctantly on strike. But after this letter, I kind of don’t want to settle so that the union can “save face” and make sure that no one can possibly interpret our efforts to settle earlier than this as “caving in.”
  • If the administration is going to make a threat like this, they sure as hell better be ready to follow through on it. That’s “How to Make a Threat 101.” Anyone who has been on either side of the “Quit that right now or I’ll turn this car around and go home!” conversation knows that.
  • I’m obviously biased, but I kind of think the administration has sort of painted themselves into a corner on this one. If we get to 10 pm on Tuesday night, close to a deal but not quite there, and the administration gets up and walks away from the table because of the need to “follow through,” then the union will have the “high ground.” They’ll just say “hey, we were willing to keep working this out and we were just a couple of hours away– they’re the ones that left the table.” And if the administration does keep talking after 10 pm on Tuesday (and I frankly think this is the most likely scenerio), then their original threat will look pretty idle (again, see “How to Make a Threat 101”).
  • I just see this strategically as a lose-lose for them, and I don’t really see how this makes the union look bad. I mean, we’re already on strike; people who don’t like unions already think we look bad. If anything, the union almost has to stay out now to “save face” with the faculty in the union.
  • Oh yeah, about the illegal strike thing: technically, I guess it is illegal; but like so many things that have always struck me as odd in Michigan, it is apparently “standard practice.” The EMU-AAUP has been on strike at least five times in the last 30-odd years– three times in the last contracts, by the way– and no one has gotten into trouble yet. I don’t see the university firing 600-plus faculty members, and the best thing that the adminstration could do to bring attention to the union’s cause is to start arresting folks. Imagine the TV coverage. No, I think the worst-case scenario is the administration seeks some sort of court order to force us back to work, and what that would mean is a) the EMU-AAUP would say we should comply with the order, and b) faculty would be able to both work (which we love to do) and to strike. Talk about having your cake and eating it!
  • There’s been a lot of wondering about “who are the bad guys here?”– that is, who in the administration is calling these sort of hardline shots. I think we need look no further than the folks who signed this letter, President John Fallon and Board of Regents Chair Karen Valvo. I somehow think that a lot of the “warm and fuzzy feeling” of Fallon’s first year in this job has just permanently left the building. So much for his “respect and value” for the faculty, huh?

I still hope that cooler heads will prevail. They’ve had a fair amount of coverage about all this this morning on WEMU, though it’s not available via their web site yet. Dennis Beagen, who was sent by the administration to talk about this stuff, said once again this morning that he thought (the administration thought?) enough faculty would cross the lines to make the university run fine on the first day of classes. Beagen is either lying and knowing it (because he was sent to the radio station to lie), has not been paying attention, or is just wishing that what he sees happening is not actually happening. Like I said in my previous post, there will be some faculty who cross lines and there are plenty of faculty who won’t picket. But I’d be very surprised if the number of faculty who actually taught on Wednesday without a deal was more than 100 out of close to 700.

And again, to give Howard Bunsis credit, he didn’t take the bait of the administration’s threat and was speaking positive about the chances to settle before classes start, the willingness of the union to work all night to make it happen, etc., etc. Again, I’m biased, but in a weird way, he sounded like the reasonable one here.

Which makes me wonder: who are the grown-ups in this car ride?

The Strike of 2006: Day 3

Strikers in a RowSo, I walked into campus once again for a little time on the picket line. Originally, I had signed up to picket from 10 am to noon, but when I showed up to my appointed place, there was no one there. Someone reminded me that there was an email to eveyrone that said we were now supposed to meet at 10:30 am at a parking lot on the other side of campus. Okay, fine….

Anyway, I went over there, only to find that the instructions the organizers were giving us were (basically) to go back to where I was before. And then there was also a lot of sort of “mixed messages” about what it is we were doing out there and trying to say to students. Throughout this talk and the rest of the picketing activities, there was a lot folks saying that we didn’t want to scare folks or make them feel uncomfortable and all of that.

Which brings up a tangent:

More StrikersI appreciate the work that the picket organizers have done so far, though, as I have said in previous recent posts, I personally think that the focus should be on bigger events, as was the case today. But I don’t think you go on strike or picket to make people feel good or to make them feel comfortable.

Beyond that, it’s kind of hard to “organize” faculty members, who most often behave more like independent contractors than the kind of workers who tend to make up labor unions. And I also don’t think that a bunch of middle-aged and up folks carrying around signs are really all that intimidating to anyone.

Ian and TuckerAnyway, we (and by “we,” I mean me and about 75-80 other faculty, which is a pretty good showing for a Sunday morning on a holiday weekend before school has even begun) eventually got sort of organized and were at the doors of the field house when incoming students were leaving to go on to their next orientation activity. We passed out flyers and such for about 20 minutes. Most of the time, I was with my colleague Ian and his very large and very nice dog, Tucker. Actually, Tucker was a nice ice-breaker because a lot of the students said hi and wanted to pet the dog.

After the students moved from one building to another (and thus were out of sight for a while), we all ended up hanging around for an hour or so. There was chatting, gossiping, socializing, etc., but just about everyone there seemed pretty “gung ho” about the whole enterprise of being out on the picket line. Well, I suppose that’s to be expected– who the hell else would show up for a picket on the Sunday morning before Labor Day?Young Strikers

I did get a chance to talk with Howard Bunsis a bit. Mostly he told me the sort of thing he’s said a bunch of different times in emails and the press and everything else. I asked him what he thought about our chances of making a deal before classes began, and he said 50-50. Which, I don’t know, I guess is good.

Then we organized a sort of a stationery picket line overlooking where first year students were eating lunch. There was a big tent where they were serving up food, and supposedly, John Fallon was in there, meeting and greeting. I don’t know about that; he certainly never came out to say howdy to the faculty.

Bunsis did talk to us all a bit when we were done picketing at about 12:15 or so. There’s not going to be any picketing on campus tomorrow, but the EMU-AAUP has a spot in the Labor Day parade in Detroit. And then it’s back to the lines again on Tuesday– unless we’re settled, of course.

So, once again, we’ll see what happens.

Students and Strikers
Bunsis said that his impression is that the administration still thinks that faculty won’t respect the strike and will work on Wednesday. I really don’t know if this is what the thinking of the administration actually is, but I think that’s bizarre thinking indeed. There’s no question that faculty have a lot of mixed feelings about the union and about a strike and all of that, that there are plenty of faculty who won’t picket for good and bad reasons, and that there will certainly be some faculty who will cross the lines. But that doesn’t mean that classes will go off without a hitch. I would guess that out of the 680 or so faculty in the union, probably 600 of them won’t show up to teach if we’re still on strike. In my department, while I can think of lots of people who won’t picket for all kinds of different reasons, I can’t think of anybody who is likely to cross the picket line.

Bunsis SpeaksAnd this doesn’t even speak to all of the other things that faculty do besides teaching, things like leading orientation sessions, mentoring graduate assistants, helping students register and schedule, and so forth. And believe me: if classes really don’t start on time on Wednesday, I am pretty sure there will be more faculty on the picket line, not less.

I have to think that most of the administration knows this. I mean, every time seems to be pretty much the same thing; why is this supposedly different?

Anyway, the rest of my “Labor” day weekend is going to be on getting ready for school with the assumption that it will start eventually, and it will start before my first class meets, which is September 11. But my hope is that I’ll be able to be working in my office on September 6.

One more thing:
I forgot to mention this earlier. As the EMU-AAUP web site indicates, negotiations are supposed to resume at 6pm Sunday night. The problem is the mediator isn’t going to be there until Tuesday. So for us to get a deal before Tuesday morning would pretty much be a miracle at this stage.