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!

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7 Responses to The Strike of 2006: Day 6

  1. Publius says:

    I agree that it is unlikely the administration will go back to the table on its own volition, and that a judge asked for an inunction might order s back to work and the employer back to the table. However, there is unfortunately another option I think the administration is preparing to pursue. Suckerpunched is the technical public employee labor relations term for what is about to happen to the faculty union.

    I believe the University will now seek to impose unilaterally its “last, best offer”, which is a term of art under the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act. If the parties are at an impasse (and I think most observers would say that we are), then the statute allows the employer to impose unilaterally its last, best offer. So we will be stuck with a 5-year contract with 3% raises, and there is very little our AAUP can do about it. AAUP will try to argue that there is no real “impasse” as the administration has not been bargaining in good faith and has committed unfair labor practices (see the lawyer-written statement at
    http://www.emu-aaup.org/node/191). But I certainly wouldn’t bet the farm on that argument. AAUP’s track record of prevailing on ULPs is, I think, one for eight or nine.

    As to the strike, the union has been backed into a corner with only the unfair labor practice charges as any shield. Firing the “illegal strikers” is the University’s sole remedy under the public employment law. Lamphere Schools v Lamphere Federation of Teachers, 400 Mich 104, 252 NW2d 818, 95 BNA LRRM 2279, 84 ALR3d 314 (1977). Should the strike persist, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the university try sending some termination letters. M.C.L. § 423.206. (You can’t be arrested for the “illegal strike” as it is illegal and not criminal, but you *can* be fired.)

    As you read this I can almost certainly hear you say “the administration wouldn’t be that dumb, would they?” Just drive by a certain multimillion dollar residence on Washtenaw Avenue if you want proof that smart people can do some very foolish things.

  2. Steven D. Krause says:

    But if the university does any of these things, it will be very bad politics indeed. Imposing a contract when a) the faculty are still talking and b) the administration did the walking would look pretty darn bad. They might be able to force us back to work in the deal you’re talking about, but my guess is that this might be the kind of case that might have legs as an unfair labor practice.

    As to the other legal stuff: INALNDIPOOTV. But again, bad bad politics if the move is to fire faculty.

  3. Publius says:

    Keep in mind that we are dealing with a board that has proven itself very bad at politics. But I don’t think they will actually fire anyone, just try to gut the union.

    INALNDIPOOTV? WTF?

  4. cheryl says:

    Thanks again for your briefings, Steve.

  5. collin says:

    “I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV,” I think, Publius…

  6. Steven D. Krause says:

    Yep, Collin beat me to it. Though I guess it should have been IANAL… etc….

  7. Kitchkitten says:

    Have you all seen the email that Hoft just sent out. Why do you think it is that he will not negotiate with the union directly? Emailing us instead of bargaining with the union is almost like skirting around a lawyer to catch the client unawares and defenseless. It actually seems like we could be close on all of the issues, if only the administration would try to be so. Why don’t they simply negotiate and get the university back on track for the sake of the students? I have the same question for any person in power, really. Are they heartless or just plain reckless?

    And, by the by, Steve, thanks a ton for this divine forum!

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