The Strike of 2006: "Ended" for fact finding

I don’t have much time to post right now– I’m sure I’ll come back to this later. But three things for now:

  • In case you haven’t heard, the EMU-AAUP has suspended “Ended” the strike so we can take the administration up on their offer of “fact finding.” See the union’s press release here.
  • In my opinion, this was the best option– followed closely by simply agreeing to the administration’s deal, and distantly by going back out on strike.
  • I’m going to try to get a version of my previously suggested “EMUtalk.org” up and running yet this weekend. It will be merely a shell at this point, but something to get us started.

Now it’s later…

Some of what I’ve come across in the papers and such:

  • From the Detroit News, “EMU’s renegade professors should stay on job.” This is the one that was supposedly on the EMU web site for a while, though I think they took it off. Really, this strikes me as so ridiculously pro-administration as to not even be worthy of comment. I suspect this is why they took it off of their web site.
  • The Detroit Free Press’ “At EMU, Teach, Talk and Settle” is a bit better. I mostly agree with this paragraph: “With EMU refusing to negotiate until the American Association of University Professors ended its walkout, the union, in effect, blinked first. But the school administration has nothing to crow about until a contract is settled. Given the ever-increasing costs of college, neither side can expect much public support for failing to deliver on its end of the higher education bargain. They owe the university constituency a better effort.” Though I’m not sure I would say that the union “blinked.” I think we demonstrated that we had souls and we actually cared for students. If that’s “blinking,” well….

And then the rest of what I came across was about what you’d expect.

So, here’s some of what I remember from the day:

I went in today and met with one of the graduate students I’m teaching/mentoring as part of my interim Writing Program Administrator duties, someone who was having an interesting teaching issue. Needless to say, I’m not going to say anything more about it than that. But I will say this: first, the issues all had some version of a happy ending. Second, this student said something I really appreciated and that says a lot about the whole situation. She (I guess I can let that out) said “I’m really glad you weren’t on strike today.” I kind of laughed and said “yeah, me too.” And she said “No, really. I’m really REALLY glad you weren’t on strike today.”

Yeah, me too.

After all this got sorted out, it was time for the noon meeting in Roosevelt Hall. The short version was the offer the administration ended the morning sessions with today (at like five in the morning, by the way) were not any better and, in some ways, a regression. At least that’s what the union team said. I’m not completely sure. One thing though that is missing from the administration’s “latest and greatest” offer is a contribution to retirement. In other words, while the percentages of what they are willing to give us for salary are higher in this latest version, they got that way by taking away money from someplace else.

Tangent #1 in two parts: First, one of the many things that is so frustrating about this whole thing is that the administration could have made all of this go away SOOO easily. As one of my colleagues said in the hallway today, if they had said something like “okay, we’ll pay for insurance– at least we’ll pay for the decent PPO– and we’ll give y’all 2%,” we would have settled for that in a second. And that deal probably would have cost the administration less, too. Certainly less than the legal fees of the last 11 or 12 days.

Second, I’m not completely convinced that this is that bad of a deal. Not a great deal for sure, but not that bad. As far as I can tell, it isn’t a pay cut, and right now, that’s good enough for me.
/tangent

Anyway, the bargaining team, union executive committee, and, most importantly, a very articulate guy from the national AAUP office (I can’t remember his name right now) basically offered two options: go on strike again or take the offer of fact finding. And they were pushing fact finding. Approving/considering the contract as offered was pretty much out of the question. While some folks spoke up for the idea of a strike, I think the vast majority of people were for fact finding even before we got the pitch for it. Striking was simply not working, we were obviously losing public support (see above editorials, for example), and I think there was a general sentiment that it was time to try something new.

Tangent #2: I might have time to write more in terms of a reflection as a wrap-up to this whole strike mess later, but I am totally TOTALLY convinced that this union has hit a time to give up on striking as a strategy and try something new, and I mean that for now and in the future. We’ve been going on strike now (off and on) for 30 years, and, while the union has made a lot of gains in different areas, it hasn’t gotten us a lot more money. When we went on strike in 2000, we were near the bottom of the MAC and Michigan colleges and universities in terms of salaries. In 2002 or 03 (I forget which), same deal. In 2006, same deal. And I’m pretty sure this was all the same in the mid ’70s. All I’m saying is we need a different approach here, and I for one am just not convinced that we would be that worse off by working without a contract instead of going on strike. I do know that working without a contract would be a hell of a lot less stressful and disruptive on my life, not to mention my students’ lives. But like I said, maybe more on that another time. /tangent

There was a lot of disappointment amongst folks, of course. For one thing, it means we didn’t win. I don’t think it means we lost exactly, but the relationship between the union and the administration has, up to this point, been about “winning.”

For another, it means this isn’t over yet. Really, fact finding just puts us into limbo, at least until the fact finder finds facts (which could be December easily), until the administration does something about it (or not, which is the main fear of going down the fact finding paty in the first place). One good argument for this is the old contract is arguably better than the new one, but the process is still annoying and stressful.

Tangent #3 And I guess what also frustrates me about this is we really could have avoided this minimal gain and highly stressful version of trench warfare called “picketing” by agreeing to fact finding last week. Back on September 8, the EMU-AAUP poo-pooed fact finding; now it’s the way we’re going. /tangent

Some/many of my colleagues saw this as the beginning of the end of the union. I actually don’t think that is true at all. You know, one of the good things that comes out of crises like this is it forces a different way of thinking. Carrying around sticks with paper stapled to them wasn’t working, and, IMO, it has never worked that great here anyway. Folks are still united in this group, and I actually got a sense of some potential energy and a larger involvement in this “next step,” during fact finding, by the rank and file of the union.

That, as a certain former imprisoned professional homemaker might say, is a good thing.

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8 Responses to The Strike of 2006: "Ended" for fact finding

  1. Wendell Gee says:

    What is behind the tone of the University’s press release this evening about the Fact Finding agreement? Did anyone else notice the heading, the subheading, or the continued reference to the “illegal strike”? What’s wrong with simply saying that the University and the AAUP have agreed to Fact Finding? Reminds me of the irony that lies at the at the heart of the character of Michael Corlone in THE GODFATHER, who repeatedly claims that “it’s not personal, it’s just business.”

    Someone in Administration is making this very personal.

  2. Wendell Gee says:

    FYI: The University has revised their press release slightly in the last hour. Originally, the heading read “Faculty union finally agrees to EMU’s offer for fact finder.” They have since dropped “finally” from their statement.

    I know it’s a small point, but it speaks volumes, I think, about the administration’s attitude throughout all of this.

  3. Dave says:

    Sticks & stones can break my bones…

    Management doesn’t want to continue our “old” contract because they want major concessions on health care. Notice they comment on PPO option #1, “No required contributions toward premium.” This is just weasel talk. Yeah, but what astronomical CO-PAY is required, ya jabroni!?

    Cary Nelson refers to the Board of Regents as “A highly conservative governing board.” These people are not pragmatic conservatives interested in being good stewards of the public trust. They are foaming at the mouth conservatives consumed with ramming an ideology down our throats!

  4. Carol says:

    I’ll let her tell you the whole story, but a certain junior faculty member is responsible for getting the Public Information Office to remove “finally” from that press release. She called over there and pointed out how inflammatory that was.

  5. Bud Gibson says:

    Personally, I think fact finding is a good thing because it might lead to a more objective assessment of the situation and some potential agreement on what the issues are.

    At the end of the day, I think we will really only profit by moving the institution forward. Otherwise, it just seems like a case of squabbling over a constantly decreasing pie. You might “win”, but at the end of the day, the pie is getting smaller, not larger, and you can’t have the whole thing.

  6. Dave says:

    National AAUP “guy” = Ernie Benjamin

  7. Pete says:

    The “fact finding” was different in this case, because the university was willing to extend the contract, which it was not when the original offer was made.

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