*For recreational purposes only.
The EMU faculty and administration are officially in the process of negotiating a new contract to replace the one that ends on August 31, 2006. Because I am procrastinating this morning and also because there’s a better chance of getting my opinions heard here than at one of the various meetings the union asks faculty to attend, I thought I’d post a few thoughts.
But first, the disclaimers:
- Given that what I’m commenting on here is widely known among the faculty and even available on the EMU-AAUP Web Site, I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school (so to speak).
- I was once much more active in the union than I am now. I was the web master for the web site the EMU-AAUP had during the strike way back when (1999? 2000?), I was on the Executive Committee at a particularly contentious time a few years ago, I used to go to meetings of various sorts, etc. However, I really have no unique knowledge or insight of what’s going on behind the union scenes right now. In other words, this is all relatively uninformed “gut feelings.”
- I have profoundly mixed feelings about our union and the way that EMU conducts “bargaining” with various unions (including the faculty) on this campus. I guess what it boils down to is this: the union is a really good thing for new faculty especially because it makes the tenure process crystal clear, which makes EMU a generally pretty good place to work. But the union is a bad thing because I think it promotes a level of mediocrity in that the union (and thus the faculty it represents) are constanly fighting for the absolute minimums (in terms of work load, in terms of scholarship, etc.), the union ends up having to defend some faculty who probably don’t deserve it, and the whole atmosphere of “us” versus “them” just is unpleasant.
- I think that the “us” versus “them” thing is largely about taking on what are the perceived roles of whatever side you are on, faculty or administrator. The reality of the situation is that there is a very porous border between these two sides. There are folks who are now faculty and on the union’s negotiation team who used to be administrators, and vice-versa. I know and have worked with people who will be on the different sides of the bargaining table, and I really do believe that the majority of these folks are “good people” and have the interests of the institution in mind. And yet both sides seem to take on this inflated rhetoric based entirely on their roles in the situation now: faculty have to think that administrators are out to screw us, and administrators think the faculty are greedy and lazy. I’m paraphrasing, of course.
- It’s not happening this year, but it’d be nice if, prior to some future negotiation, if the faculty and administration would agree to hire an outside accounting/consulting firm to produce some numbers about various things that everyone could agree that, for the sake of argument, were “correct.” Because what has and will continue to happen is the union produces one set of numbers that benefit its argument and the administration produces another set of numbers that benefits theirs. It’s kind of annoying.
- Finally, for those of you not at EMU and who are still reading this: the faculty at EMU have been in a “bargaining unit” (eg, the union) since 1974; we’re a chapter of the AAUP; we have been on strike in the past (eg, carrying around signs on picket lines, not showing up for work, etc.) and I am certain we would strike again if we had to.
Alrighty then: on to the “issues” that are going to be on the table this year (basically), in the same “non-particular order” as posted on the union’s web site:
(1) due process for all suspended faculty members I am not quite sure what this is about, but I will say this: Of the 685 or so faculty members at EMU, I’d guess about 675 of them won’t be effected by this. My guess is that what this is talking about is those few “problem” people who tend to occupy so much time for grievance officers and lawyers and such.
(2) voluntary phased retirement Basically, this would allow for some system of older and near retirement faculty to sort of “wind down” their workload instead of just stopping entirely. There’s been a kind of informal/unofficial policy on this; I hope this does actually come to be since it is one of those things that happens at a lot of other schools and it makes some sense, at least to me.
(3) TIAA-CREF contributions equal to those given administrators and health coverage incentives to those retiring before 65 This is probably in the mix to talk about overall insurance and bennie package stuff. Part of the problem though right now is that administrators get another point or two (I can’t remember the exact numbers) of their salary contributed to TIAA-CREF than faculty.
(4) strengthening faculty input and Faculty Council Having been on the FC recently, I can say that’s its own kettle of fish…. In any event, I’m not completely sure what this would be about since I think FC actually has a lot of input right now.
(5) work load issues, including equivalencies Boy, this is such a complicated issue that I just don’t see it being resolved at the negotiating table. Maybe they’ll be able to set up some committee to study what to do about, but I’m not expecting the status quo to change much on this one.
(6) improving funding for faculty research Two thoughts here: first, the administration is going to plead poverty. Second, the faculty will be unwilling to agree to any sort of “minimal standards” across the board for scholarship. Don’t expect a change here, either.
(7) correcting inequities in CE pay and improving accountability of CE operations I posted about this back in April; as I said then, I think this actually has a chance of coming to be, and I think it’s win-win since it would probably save money in the big picture of things and it is certainly ethical.
(8) addressing problems in lab, office, and classroom conditions This is a long-standing problem, and really, until the state gives EMU money to do some rebuilding of classroom buildings and the like, there’s nothing that’s going to happen about this.
(9) improving absolute and relative faculty compensation In other words, money. That’s interesting wording there though, “absolute and relative.” The problem, IMO, with the way that pay increases have been negotiated in the past is it’s a percentage across the board– in other words, everyone gets 3% or something. That might seem fair, but what ends up happening is that your salary is then forever tied to whatever salary you started with, and this results in what is commonly called “compression,” the phenomenon where the differences in pay for incoming faculty, offered relatively competitive salaries, and senior faculty are surprisingly small. And then there’s the whole issue that faculty in fields like, say, English, are a lot cheaper than faculty in business. In any event, I’d be surprised if there was anything other than an across the board percentage, but keep an eye on this as it relates to health insurance.
(10) rebuilding the faculty by increasing the number of searches and hires beyond the break-even level In other words, hiring more faculty. One of the things that happened during the disasterous reign of Sam Kirkpatrick was the number of faculty hired decreased sharply. Fortunately, I think that both the provost and the president are interested in turning that around. So while I suspect there will be some differences of opinion here, ultimately we’ll probably get some agreement to keep trying to hire more faculty.
Now, here’s the big one:
The EMU administration proposed that the faculty accept the same health care plan as the lecturers. A couple of thoughts here. First, it isn’t just the lecturers on this one; it’s also the administrators and anyone else on campus not in a union. Second, the plan (as it was explained to me by a friend of mine who used to be a faculty member but who is now an administrator while we were on the golf course) is basically this: if you don’t want to pay anything, you get a “bare bones” $500 deductible kind of health care policy. If you want what’s called “Comunity Blue PPO” (which we have and which I think is very good insurance), then you’d have to pay, though not a lot– my friend/colleague was claiming $1000 a year for a family of four. The other choices that people have right now– straight Blue Cross and another plan– I guess would be eliminated.
I think how people are going to feel about this will depend a lot on how it figures in with item #3 (in TIAA-CREF and insurance for early retirees) and on #9 (money). I have very mixed feelings about it all because while I realize that lots of people pay for their health care insurance and that these people pay a lot more than $1000 a year, part of the deal at EMU for faculty has always been the great benefits. In other words, while we don’t make as much money at EMU as faculty do at a lot of other schools, the benefits (insurance, etc.) are very good and make a big difference. And besides, just because everyone else is getting screwed out of health care doesn’t mean we should get screwed too.
Anyway, here’s my personal take: if the administraton offers a pay increase and/or TIAA-CREF contribution that would help offset the cost of the insurance, then I think most faculty will be okay with that. If the administration doesn’t do that, then we’ll strike.
But even if this is technically the same deal (or close to it) as the lecturers got in their contract, it really isn’t the same deal in practice because faculty make so much more money. For example, let’s say a lecturer makes $30K a year (and I think most of them make less than that in our department). Charging someone $1000 for insurance but only giving them a 3% pay-raise ($900 before taxes) is a net pay-cut. On the other hand, faculty get paid a lot more money. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that the average faculty member makes $50K a year. If they give us a 3% raise and then charge us $1000 for insurance, then we’d still end up in the black, though just barely. Plus the fact of the matter is most people would do something to benefit their own situation: maybe go on to the insurance plan of a spouse, etc. And there’s a lot of other things that could happen to compensate for the insurance besides salary money– more TIAA-CREF, eliminating the paying for parking thing that is supposedly on the table, etc., etc.
Anyway, more of my opinons than you wanted to know. Right now, I would handicap our strike chances as 4 to 1; but as the rhetoric heats up over the summer, that could go to even money in a hurry….