Of course I went to the 2 pm meeting the EMU-AAUP called to talk about what’s up with the strike. I thought about taking my computer with me and actually “blogging live” while the meeting was going on, but I decided that there were too many logistical problems with that. I did take a lot of notes, and here’s (basically) what I wrote down:
- Once again, Howard Bunsis repeated what I have to admit is for me the bottom line: the administration walked away from the table, the union is still at the table, and the union is willing to meet and talk with the administration’s team at any time and at any place. As I’ve mentioned here many times before, I have mixed and complex feelings about the union and I don’t agree with everything they’re asking for. But the basic principle is hard to dispute: we really can’t go back to work until the administration comes back to the negotiations. As came up at a couple of different times, if we were to give in to the administration demands on this one, then we’re asking for a super shitty contract the next time around and every other time from then on. Fallon and Valvo were basically trying to break the union; they managed to make it much much stronger.
- I have to say that I am not entirely sure that I really understand the insurance issues as much as I thought I did. I was under the impression that I would be able to keep the insurance I have right now, but I’m not completely sure if that’s the case. But my misunderstanding about this is probably my fault. Anyway, the short version is it looks like the faculty and the administration are further apart on this than I thought.
- Oh, and it doesn’t look like our insurance is going to be cut off anytime soon. Someone on the bargaining team told a story about how a child of his needed some urgent care this week and wanting to find out about the insurance issues. So he called over to HR and was told that the insurance was paid by the university a month in advance and there was not going to be any quick change in covering faculty because “nothing changes quickly at EMU.” Good news, I guess….
- The cost of living stuff– things like projections for inflation and all of that– is all kind of murky to me. On the one hand, I think the union is making a reasonably good case, and in my own experiences, I can say pretty clearly that the meager raises we’ve always gotten at EMU ultimately mean that we slowly fall behind. When we were on strike in 2000, one of the big issues was money and how we were (on average) at the bottom of the MAC. Six years later, we’re still at the bottom of the MAC– or close to it. On the other hand, with the state of the Michigan economy, I think settling on a deal where we are not taking a pay cut because of insurance (this has ALWAYS been my personal bottom-line) is probably a more sane negotiation stand than inflation and cost of living.
- Anyway, this is a good example of how the math between the administration and the faculty differs. The administration has been saying they’re offering us a 16% pay raise over 5 years; the union, figuring in things like COL and inflation, says we’re getting a 1.10% pay cut. I supsect the truth depends a lot on a wide variety of individual factors– how much you’re getting paid in the first place, what sort of expenses you have, etc., etc. These all seemed like issues that could have been worked out in negotiations– if the administration was willing to actually negotiate, of course.
- One of the union negotiating team stories that I had heard elsewhere: there was a very stupid dispute about the correct time at around 10 pm on Tuesday night, where the lawyer for the administration said it was one time and where someone on the union side, who was referring to the time displayed on his cell phone, said it was about 10 minutes earlier than the administration said. Tell me that’s not childish– I dare you.
- I don’t like at all the stuff that’s on the table about Continuing Education classes, I really don’t like the fact that it seems like the administration is proposing different rates for f2f classes and online classes, and I really REALLY don’t like that the online CE classes will pay less. I’m not sure how big of an issue this was for the union team, but it’s a big issue for me for all kinds of reasons I won’t go into now.
- There was a very fired-up attorney from the firm that the union retains– maybe a little too fired up. Anyway, he basically rehashed some of the long-pressing legal issues and was there for some support. But not that informative.
- One of my favorite Bunsis quotes: “If they (meaning the administration, of course) came back to the table tonight, we’d be back in the classroom on Monday.” That’s almost certainly true, IMO. Reason 1,342 as to why that infamous Fallon/Valvo letter was so stupid.
- There was some talk about how this strike is a struggle for labor across America. Well…. sorta. It’s certainly not often that academic labor unions go on strike. But if it’s part of the national labor struggle, I think it’s worth remembering that a) labor is getting its ass handed to it (the Northwest Airlines mechanics union, for example), and b) faculty are kind of labor, kind of not.
- There were some questions about the whole “fact finding” thing. I stood up and asked about it. By the way, since people in the back couldn’t hear me, I was told for the literally the first time in my life to speak up. Anyone who has heard me speak knows that’s true. Anyway, I said something like this: “I’m all for the union’s position that we are at the table and the administration needs to come back to the table. But suppose it comes to this fact finding thing. If the union is confident of its numbers and, after this fact finding mission, the administration still doesn’t want to give us a decent contract, why can’t we then go on strike?” This was met with a smattering of claps and some “rabble-rabble-rabble” sounds I had a hard time interpreting.
The basic answer was that if the faculty waited until after the fact finders came back with the facts (and the assumption was it wouldn’t be until December or something to get these “facts”) and if the university didn’t follow the recommendations of the fact finders, it would be unlikely that faculty really would go on strike. The theories offered as to why this would be the case? Basically, by December or so, faculty build relationships with their students and they wouldn’t be willing to walk out of teaching. Plus it’s really nasty weather in December, the kind not conducive for picketing.
This is a long-standing debate about strike strategies in the union, and I know there are a variety of different opinions on this. While one of my senior colleagues suggested that our students were like puppies (once you have them for a couple of months, you don’t want to give them away), I think that we’re hurting our students right now. I think our students are like– oh, I don’t know– people. And if our students, as people, understand us while we’re on strike right now and they support us, I think they will in December too.
And, as one of my other colleagues suggested to me on the phone, all we’d have to do is go back on strike at the beginning of the Winter term in January. It would be pretty much the same as going on strike now.
As far as the weather stuff goes: well, I can get long underwear and everything. You live in Michigan long enough and you get used to being out in the cold.
Personally, I have always thought that if we were to work without a contract until about Thanksgiving and then went out, the adminstration would be kind of screwed because of the pressure of the end of the semester. But maybe that’s just me.
I would like to say that, besides all this stuff, it seems unlikely to me that the administration would agree to this fact finding option and then not agree to its recommendations. But given that the administration left the table, it’s hard to know what they’d do.
- Again and again, folks asked (basically) who is really behind all this. Again and again, the union folks– Howard Bunsis et al, I mean– were fairly diplomatic in what they didn’t know. In other words, they said they really didn’t know who to blame for this mess. But at the same time, it seems to me as an observer that this is Fallon’s and Valvo’s fault.
- Anyway, that was the major substance of it. I can’t think of the woman’s name, but someone told a rather inspiring story about how (rumor has it, of course) that a lot of the “in the trenches” administrators are as PO-ed about the Fallon/Valvo letter as the faculty. This does make a certain amount of sense; after all, while the Fallons of the institution are likely to be moving on to their next high-powered administrative gig in a few years, the vast majority of deans, associate deans, program folks, and department heads are like the majority of the faculty: EMU is their career. And, like the faculty, I am sure they resent that the president and the board of regents are in the process of screwing this place (and our students and our careers and our lives) up for the rest of us.
- The point is this though (especially for any administrator-types who might be reading this) is there is absolutely no evidence that the faculty are even remotely split. If any of you folks were thinking that maybe the union was in the process of breaking, give it up. I cannot possibly emphasize enough how angry faculty are about all this and how clearly the faculty is united on this one. I think folks are more together on this– again, because the administration walked away– on almost any other than I have seen in my time at EMU. In my mind, the only thing that comes close to this vibe is when the faculty overthrew the old (and corrupt) guard of the union. Neither Fallon nor Valvo know anything about this, I am sure, but they ought to ask someone to find out how that turned out.
- Of course, there’s lots of faculty– including me– that want the union to entertain some sort of alternative and creative solution to making a deal. But who knows how that will go?
- One last important thing: the union is NOT going to be picketing tomorrow (maybe the adminstration can pretend we’re not on strike that day and go back to the table), but then on Sunday, there’s going to be a picket/rally in front of the “University House” at 1pm. This is where I think we should have been picketing/protesting from day one. But what bums me out about all this is I won’t be able to be there; we’re having a birthday party for my son then. Oh well.
If anyone reading this is going to be there, has a camera, and wants to write about it/take pictures of it, I can make you a deal as a guest blogger. Just let me know.
- Oh wait, yet another last thing! If you’re reading this and you want the administration to come back to the bargaining table, please please please email them. If you visit this EMU-AAUP web page, you can find the email addresses and phone numbers of the key players (Fallon, Valvo, etc.). Emailing/writing/calling them might be futile, this is all we’ve got at this stage.
Howard Bunsis just sent around an email about today’s meeting. I include the text here for a couple of reasons, including the link to PDF file they used for their presentation today. Like I said, I thought the presentation was pretty good and worth a look. And, as I said earlier, it is very true that faculty are pretty much united about the need for the administration to come back to the table. Anyway, here’s what Howard said:
Earlier today, in an incredible demonstration of strength and solidarity, 389 members of our union met and reaffirmed your strong support of their strike. We presented the offers on the table from both sides, and it is clear that you remain determined to stay on strike until a fair contract is achieved.
The presentation from todayâ€™s session can be found at:
In legal news, the EMU administration rejected the EMU-AAUPâ€™s offers for both binding arbitration and binding fact-finding.
Rest assured that your negotiating team is going to examine every available avenue in order to find a way to encourage the administration to come back to the bargaining table. More than anything, we want to be in the classrooms with our students as soon as possible.