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….

9 thoughts on “The Strike of 2006: Day 5”

  1. Hey, as a student I just wanted to say that I stand behind the faculty and support them with the strike. I’m amazed at the way EMU has responded – especially with the threat of cutting off talks tonight at 10PM if its not resolved and you guys refuse to cancel the strike.

  2. Hi Steve,
    I am one of the people who have been coming to your blog in the past few days. It offers a fresh perspective past the dueling stats on the official sites. I just wanted to say that as the Treasurer of EMU-FT, the lecturers union, we support the strike even as we are required by contract to be in the classroom. It is not easy for us to cross the picket line, but we are supporting you by making the strike the topic of discussion in class tomorrow.

  3. I’ve been checking in with your blog to get a more balanced view of the issues than is presented on university site. I’m referrring other concerned parties to your blog as well. Like the other respondents, I’m disapointed at the university’s heavy handed negotiating tactics in threatening the 10 pm cutoff. Thanks for keeping all readers updated.

  4. Hi all,

    Well, I’m with ya in spirit. I hope something happens in the wee hours…and then, you’ll be able to breathe easy for a few years again.

    Rah rah to all of my former colleagues out there!

  5. I want to add my thanks for your keeping this blog so up to date with the “other side” so to speak. I have to say I’m glad I’m not a faculty member faced with these kinds of decisions as I think I’d be stuck somewhere in the middle and not sure what to do. That is how I feel as a student facing going to class tomorrow–I have really bad memories as a kid of crossing a grade school picket line, scary people who should have remembered they were picketing at an elementory school–that colors my feelings on striking. On the other hand, I’m also very disappointed with the administrations tactics–and I can assure you that getting handed a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate by the president isn’t going to reduce my disappointment. Regardless, I feel for faculty members that picket, stay home, and choose to show up in the classroom–everyone has a hard choice to make. Even the students–can I support your right to strike and negotiate in how you see fit, and yet not feel guilty for walking into a class that I’m paying a lot of money to attend? I’m not really sure.

  6. The latest EMU release says the univ offered 3% a year for 5 years, plus increasing TIAA-CREF over 4 years to match the 11% paid to administrators. On health care, they claim “the faculty would retain their current health care options with the understanding that the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Traditional and Care Choice HMO programs would eventually be phased out with no new participation in those plans. With the retention of these current plans, the individual faculty members will make nominal contributions to the cost differences.”

    The devil is in the deails on the health plan (what exactly is “nominal”?), but do you think our AAUP leaders will let us vote on what the university says is their “last best offer”?

  7. Kelly– How’s it going?

    There were some students out there tonight at 10 pm when the bargaining team walked out, and they were talking about making signs that said “Students support our faculty” (or something like that) and holding those while Fallon serves coffee and doughnuts. If anybody does that and can get me a picture of that, I’d appreciate it. :)

  8. Well Publius, all I know is they didn’t tell us exactly what the deal was, though I just heard on channel 4 news at 11:00 pm about the 3% offer. I don’t know how all that figures into health care, and, as you say, the devil is in the details. And quite frankly, the devil is also in the administration because they walked out. Not a pretty site….

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