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.

The Strike of 2006: Day 2

Strike RallyI did what I would describe as a little “light picketing” today; walked around for about two hours with a sign, up and down Washtenaw between the McKenney Union and the corner of Oakwood and Washtenaw, where you’d turn in to go to the library. This picture isn’t from that; actually, it’s from this article in the student newspaper, The Eastern Echo. And once again, it needs to be clear that are not “poised” to strike; we’re ON strike.

Anyway, there was a pretty good vibe out on the picket line today, actually. Folks willing to show up for a picket on a Saturday morning on Labor Day weekend before classes begin are obviously supporters of the union and, I think, supporters of EMU, too. So what was cool was there was this simultaneous feeling of supporting the strike, obviously, but also welcoming the incoming students and their families to town.

I talked with/listened in on a conversation with one parent who said he was a teacher and a former president of his local teacher’s union. They went on strike many years ago, and it was quite a surprise to the administration of the school district. They were out for a week, it was hard and painful and all of that, but they ultimately got what they wanted.

So far, sounds like the “happy ending” we’re looking for here, right? Well, then this parent went on to say that after this strike happened, which was years ago, the teacher’s union and the administration recognized that no one wins from a strike and they have figured out a process of negotiating contracts that was reasonable for both sides and so we wouldn’t have to go on strike.

And I guess that’s the issue here: why is it, after 30 some-odd years, we’ve been unable to do that here at EMU? One of the guys I was talking to on the picket line today has been here since the union came to pass, and as he said, it’s been the same damn thing every contract. That’s just kind of stupid, if you ask me.

But on the other hand, this is the situation we’ve got to deal with, so I guess you press on. I am officially scheduled to picket tomorrow from 10 am to noon, which ought to be a good time because that will be right when a lot of student orientation sessions are going on. Negotiations don’t resume until Sunday night; given that those negotiations are taking place in the student union at the same time as a big “welcome to EMU” student event, I think that’d probably be a really good time for another faculty rally.

The Strike of 2006: Day 1

My day has not exactly gone by the plan so far. First off, my gym is still closed, and, like EMU, will not likely re-open until after Labor Day. So I couldn’t work out and I still feel flabby. And then second, I decided that picketing wasn’t going to work for me today, mainly because it’s my son’s 9th birthday and I do have my priorities.

I did drive around campus on my way home and I did see that pickets are in place. But, and I don’t want to be picky about our picketing, I wonder if we’re taking the right strategy on the way we do this. It makes sense to me to post pickets at things like loading docks and the enterance points of construction sites on campus, especially since some of the workers in some of those unions (the Teamsters, for example) have it written into their contract that they won’t cross another union’s picket line. But beyond that, I personally think that the union would be better off organizing pickets around a few key places on campus and also to focus on some rally-type pickets at specific times. In other words, instead of it all being about 24 hour posts, why not schedule a picket/rally in front of the University House for noon or 1 pm? Why not keep the pickets up around Welch Hall? Why not plan a picket around Pray-Harrold on Sunday while the student/parent orientation is going on?

Just my thoughts. I don’t expect to be getting an email or a post from the union folks suggesting I organize something like that. :-)

Speaking of union versus administration folks: while driving around this morning, I heard both Hartmut Hoft and Howard Bunsis on WEMU radio. You can take a listen to these interviews yourself by following this link. It’s really a classic we say/they say kind of thing, but it’s interesting in at least two regards, I think. First, both sides accuse the other of not bargaining in good faith– in other words, there are unfair labor practice claims flowing out of both groups right now. Second, neither side of the table seems to feel the need/pressure to settle before the start of classes. As I’ve mentioned before, that kind of pisses me off.

Anyway, I’ll get back to this stuff in more earnest tomorrow. Today is the opening of my son Will’s birthday– really birth-week since he doesn’t officially have his party until Sunday.

Friday Night Update:

A few thoughts on the day at the end of it:

  • My colleague Steve B. did some picketing today and said there were quite a few faculty up there with signs and enthusiastic and all of that. All a good thing.
  • I heard a rumor (not from Steve B., I want to point out) that there had been some “significant progress” made today. At the same time, I’m not sure Howard Bunsis’ message to faculty has a lot of “significant progress” info in it. On the one hand, it sounds like some progress has been made on the biggest issue, health care. On the other hand, if you listen to Howard, it doesn’t look like a lot has happened with the other issues.
  • The parties have decided to take Saturday off and resume negotiations for Sunday. I don’t entirely know what that means. Have negotiations progressed to the point that they think they can wrap this up on Sunday? Are we supposed to picket on Saturday even if there are no negotiations? Does everyone just need, you know, a day off?
  • In the spirit of “piling on” the they say/we say thing, here’s what Hartmut Hoft said in today’s paper: ” “It’s clear, despite the university’s best efforts, that the (union) leadership was intent on striking and engaged in surface bargaining. They clearly had no intention of reaching an agreement.” I’m not really questioning Hartmut’s sincerity; I’m just saying that this sure as heck sounds like something Howard would have said, too.
  • Speaking of Howard: he sent around an email in response to one the provost sent to everyone the other day. Actually, I got four copies of Don Loppnow’s email, which makes me feel like that’s giving me permission to post it here. But I won’t. Anyway, Loppnow predictably pleaded institutional poverty, and Bunsis predictably suggested that EMU is just loaded. I think the truth is probably somewhere in between, but Howard does have a point: it’s kind of hard for the EMU administration to claim that we are poorer now than we were a couple years ago given that EMU’s appropriation from the state of Michigan is $2 million more this year than it was last. And EMU has had to spend a lot of money paying off fired and/or laid off adminstrators lately, too.

But like I said, we’ll see, we’ll see….

The Strike is on….

This just in: EMU-AAUP President Howard Bunsis just sent an email out to everyone that says the strike is indeed a “go.” Given that this message was sent about an hour before the deadline, I guess this means a) neither side wants to blink, and b) I guess I’m going to lose the pool on the strike thing.

So, my “to do” list for tomorrow, more or less in this order:

  • Go to the gym, mainly because the Washtenaw Country Rec Center has been closed for the last couple of weeks and I’m feeling the need to try to be a little less flabby.
  • Picket. Probably with my son in tow, who will not be happy about it for all kind of reasons, not the lest of which is it’s his ninth birthday tomorrow.
  • Make up for picketing with my son by going out for sushi. Yes, he likes sushi.
  • Enjoy more birthday celebrations with both him and my wife.

And until the strike is over, which hopefully will be soon, I’ll basically repeat.

A colleague emailed me tonight and told me he liked what I was posting but he wasn’t as pro-union as I was on this one. Fair enough, though I guess I’d describe my feelings about the union as profoundly mixed for lots and lots of reasons that I’m not going to rehash now. But hey, that’s the way it is.

There will be a few folks who cross some lines and there will be a few folks who decide to participate in the orientation stuff this weekend. But if for some reason the administration thinks that the faculty union is going to cave now– after 30 or so years, after five or six strikes (most of which lasted only a few hours), after various ups and downs and everything else with this group– that’s just silly.

So, like I said, picketing at about 10 am; sushi at about noon.

Correcting the AA News: the EMU-AAUP Strike Will Begin FRIDAY

Here’s what Geoff Larcom wrote/reported in today’s Ann Arbor News about the EMU-AAUP strike:

Faculty members at Eastern Michigan University voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to go on strike when classes start next week if they have not reached a new deal by the time their contract expires at midnight tonight.

(a bit later…)

Starting Friday, EMU faculty members will set up informational picket lines at selected locations throughout campus, with some spots being staffed around the clock.

I think this is flat-out wrong for a couple of reasons.

First off, the contract runs out at midnight on August 31. As part of the strike vote the other day, the collective decision seemed to be that the faculty have never worked without a contract before and we were not about to start now.

Second, and I guess this is what offends me more than anything else about this, faculty like me have been working already– in some cases, for several weeks. My department had its annual retreat today and all but a handful of faculty members were there. I have done little but work on school stuff since returning from vacation– doing stuff at school, sitting in on meetings, answering email inquiries from students and faculty, etc., etc. Any number of faculty will be working or not working during student orientation this weekend– more on that in a second. Not to mention the work that faculty traditionally do over the summer and most other times when they aren’t teaching or going to meetings, scholarship.

In other words, as anyone who is vaguely familiar with the way universities work (and you’d think that the guy who reports on EMU would know this), the work faculty do goes way beyond showing up and teaching classes. Just because I’m not in my office or performing in my classroom doesn’t mean I’m not working. Quite frankly, I sometimes wish that’s all it was.

So the pickets that will begin this evening (tomorrow morning for me) are not “informational.” They are the real thing. And if it comes to that (and I still think that’s an “if,” though I grow increasingly worried about my perhaps irrational optimism about all this), faculty know where to go and when to be there. Actually, the plans for the possible strike are surprisingly well organized.

Furthermore– and this is the real kicker here– faculty will be on strike during student move-in and during freshman orientation. This is a subject of some controversy, as I mentioned in my previous post, because there are some faculty who will be on strike during classes but who feel nonetheless to compelled to show up for the orientation events. I think this is a huge mistake, but at a minimum, I think it’s important that the administration and incoming students (and their parents) realize that the strike they are witnessing is not just “informational.”

But like I said, I still hope we settle.

The latest on the EMU faculty strike: The calm before the storm

I just want to point out to all of the folks who have come across this page through a google search of some sort: I have several other entries about the strike, so you might want to visit my blog homepage for the most current news on the strike.

If you do a search for “EMU strike” or “EMU-AAUP” or “EMU Faculty Strike” or something like that, this is one of the pages that comes up highest in the search. So, given that lots of people are doing that sort of search right now, I thought I’d post something this morning– something quick since I need to get ready for the annual English department retreat, which starts in about an hour and a half.

Anyway, there was a rally at noon yesterday that I thought was one of the more organized one of these affairs that I’ve participated in. Oh sure, it’s theater, mostly a photo-op for the media, but we did a pretty organized march around Welch Hall, there were some decent (although somewhat hard to hear) pep talks, and I think we were able to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish: Channel 4 and Channel 7 were both there (though I don’t know if that means we were on TV), and the area newspapers were there, too. So some decent coverage.

I marched around the building a couple of times; my wife Annette, with her not great knee situation, opted out and eventually went on to her physical therapy appointment. My son Will walked with me though. While practicing for the picket, I noticed Tom Venner standing off on the side and watching us. Venner is the chair of the Art department and is on the bargaining team for the administration.

Just as a slight tangent here: I really am at a loss as to why the administration is being the way that they are here, at least based on what I’ve heard. There was a guy from the national office for the AAUP at the rally, and he said there (and again on WEMU radio this morning) that the administration here has been a lot more difficult to deal with than any of the other universities in Michigan that have been negotiating contracts lately. What I don’t get about all this is I know some of the administrators at the table right now, and my experience has been that they are good people. I mean, Hartmut Hoft is a really good dean; Venner was the chair of the search for a new department head in English, and he did a great job with that. So as far as I can tell, some combination of things must be going on here. Maybe folks like Hoft and Venner are just tools for other administrators, which begs the question of why John Fallon and members fo the Board of Regents seem to be getting a “pass” by the media and the union on all this stuff. Maybe it’s just the lawyer, Jim Greene, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation of being a warm ‘n fuzzy guy interested in a fair compromise. Maybe Hoft and Venner aren’t such good guys after all. I don’t know. But if being an administrator means you either have to be tool or a jerk to the faculty, then that’s a job I’m not interested in.

The guy from the national AAUP said something else worth mentioning here: the faculty is not asking for anything more than what all of these other schools in Michigan have received in recent negotiations.

Anyway, the rally was a fine event, and then there was the actual meeting/discussion/vote on a strike. There was really no talk at all about whether or not we ought to go on strike, and this is kind of interesting to me. As far as I can recall, this has always been a topic of discussion before; there was a lot more division about whether or not we ought to walk out during the last contract negotiation.

The only real issue talked about was when to strike and how a strike would work. There was some concern about what it would look like for us to strike during the student orientation that starts this weekend. The argument went that if we didn’t go to the orientation sessions, then students would only hear about EMU from administrators and it wouldn’t look good for parents and incoming students to see faculty marching around with picket signs. Well, from my point of view, you’re either on strike or you’re not, and quite frankly, I want parents and incoming students to see faculty with picket signs. We’re not going on strike to make the administration and the institution look good; we’re going on strike to bring attention to the fact that the administration and institution are treating the faculty poorly. Maybe faculty picketing will make us look bad; but I happen to think it will make the administration look worse.

As I type this, EMU-AAUP President Howard Bunsis is actually on the radio talking about this stuff right now, actually. He’s talking about a number of the things I’ve already mentioned, so I don’t have a lot to add. One of the thing that I think Howard has learned well over the last couple of years is how to talk to the media. He stressed what I think is actually true fundamentally, that faculty want to be back to work and want to be teaching, and, simultaneously, he minimized what I see as the reality, which is there’s no way faculty are going to work without a contract and it sure looks like the administration isn’t willing to make a deal until they see if we really will strike.

So we’ll see what happens here. I guess I’ll find out at about midnight or so….

Academic Holding Pattern

When it comes to writing the generic “start of the term” post, I have a couple of problems. While our trip to Europe earlier this month was a lot of fun, it wasn’t exactly relaxing. It was more of one of those great “trips” that require a bit of a “vacation” for recovery. So in a sense, I have kind of been making that vacation now, even though I’ve been sitting in on the training sessions for graduate assistants that Linda AK is leading before she hits sabbatical and hands me the keys to the first year writing program store– more on that in a bit.

And then there’s the whole faculty union stuff. But that’s the subject of a different (tomorrow’s?) post.

In any event, even the threat of a strike casts quite a shadow on the beginnings of the term, especially when it comes to the advising and quasi-administrative work that is going to make up the bulk of my work this year– again, more on that in a bit. I found myself last night going through a backlog of email and telling students, potential students, and other advisees that I will be available next week– unless we’re on strike. That’s kind of annoying, and while I suppose the union negotiators can be blamed for some of this, I mostly blame the administration and I really REALLY blame the lawyer that the university hires to break negotiate with the union. I am certain that if this guy was not at the table, the folks from the faculty and the folks from the administration would have worked out a deal months ago. But the lawyers get paid by the hour, and they get paid to bring us to the brink, right?

Oh wait– I said that was going to be a different post….

Besides this academic holding pattern created by a combination of my body/soul forcing a post-trip “break” and the relative uncertainty of the start of the term, I feel like my non-academic life is in a bit of a holding pattern, too. Our son doesn’t start school until after Labor Day, and oh my, we are all soooo ready for him to go back to school. The Washtenaw County Rec Center, which is where I go to work out (when I go to work out) is closed until September 1, which has thwarted my plans to start getting in shape right after our trip.

Anyway, I know this hold will end eventually. And when it does, when the term really does start, I will begin what will be I hope a very interesting year as a sort of faculty/administrator. I have been the “writing program coordinator” in our department since January. My charges in that job are to more or less run the undergraduate majors in professional and technical writing and our graduate programs in professional writing and teaching of writing. In addition to that, I’m going to be the “interim director of first year writing,” which is what Linda usually does and which is more akin to what most people think of as a WPA. I’m the go-to person for the 120 or so sections of first year writing we have each term, I’m the one who has to do all sorts of miscellaneous paperwork and meeting associated with all of that, and I’m going to take over the teaching of the course our grad students take to get ready to teach first year writing. Linda is teaching the part that meets for two weeks before the term begins right now.

So thing number 1 on my agenda for next year: Don’t screw up the Interim WPA thing too badly. Given the great incoming students we have and the support I’ll be getting from some other folks here (along with Linda from a short distance away), I think this is a goal I will be able to meet.

Agenda item #2: read (and not write) some scholarship. There’s two basic reasons for this. First, with my various quasi-administrative roles, I just don’t know how much time I’m going to have to work a lot on new articles or whatever, God forbid a book. Second, as I elluded to in my earlier posts about my academic mid-life crisis, I kind of feel like that if I don’t have a “burning project” I just have to do, then it would perhaps be a better idea to not do anything for a while. So I’m looking forward to just reading stuff for a year or so.

Well, other than at least one conference presentation.

Finally, there is agenda item #3: Get in better shape. This is an annual agenda item for me, of course. But given item #2, I might actually have a little more time to do this one this year….

Ferris State Settles; a predicition of what's to come….

As reported in a variety of places, Ferris State’s faculty have settled a contract right before classes began. According to the linked story, “The tentative agreement calls for a four year contract. The faculty would get a 2% raise the first year, and a 3% raise each year after. As for the health benefits, the school pays 90% the first year, and anywhere between 80% and 90% the following years.”

So, there you have it.

The issues are different between here and there– the health care scheme seems quite a bit different, for example– but here’s what I predict:

  • We will get a nearly identical deal– maybe an additional percentage in the first year, but around 3% for four years (though they’ve been talking about it being a five year deal for a while now).
  • We will get this nearly identical deal at the last possible moment. The only thing up in the air is what exactly the “last possible moment” is going to be. Will it be when the contract runs out– which is September 1– or will it be right when classes start on September 5? We’ll see….