Here’s why I will vote no on the EMU-AAUP’s new and not negotiated contract

(This is an extremely insider/in the weeds kind of post about the proposal in front of the EMU faculty union right now, so there’s a pretty good chance that if you are not a member of the faculty at EMU, this will only kinda/sorta make sense. My apologies for that in advance).

The EMU-AAUP sent around news that the leadership wants to agree to terms for a new contract (and this is not an extension— see below) right now, about five months before the contract ends without a single day of negotiations. The Executive Committee has approved this proposal as has the faculty Bargaining Council– the vote there was 53-1. The EMU-AAUP leadership is fast-tracking this, so there will basically be a discussion on March 25 (at a time where it would be difficult for me to go and besides, that’s my birthday) and then a rushed vote to (presumably) ratify this new contract on March 26.

So this looks like it’s a done deal.

I assume I am in the minority of faculty opposing it, but I still plan to vote “no.” Here’s why (and, IMO, more or less in this order):

This doesn’t come close to solving the problems of “equivalencies.” As I’ve blogged about and posted about on Facebook numerous times, the deal struck in the last contract regarding teaching loads (aka “equivalencies”) has been a complete clusterfuck and it has hit the English department hard. Which, by the way, was the intent: that is, former EMU-AAUP president Susan Moeller more or less admitted that a lot of the motivation behind these changes in teaching load was to “get” the English department. For me and many of my department colleagues, the main reason it was important to vote out the former leadership of the union was to have new leadership who would solve this particular problem.

As I understand it, there is disagreement among faculty about what to do with these equivalencies, and the (rumored) deal from the administration of a 3-3 load would actually increase the teaching load of a significant number of my colleagues in the sciences and the College of Business. So I get it’s a problem: it’s awfully hard at this point to negotiate a deal on workload with the administration when you can’t agree amongst yourselves what that workload should be. But look, the current EMU-AAUP leadership has had two years to do this and they haven’t made any progress.  So now what they’re proposing is a committee to study the problem– that is, the union leadership just wants to kick the can down the road.

In an email to the faculty, the EMU-AAUP Executive Committee said “Both the President and Provost have expressed a desire to find alternative models to the current workload and equivalencies. We are thus cautiously optimistic that progress can be made in this area.” Riiight… because the administration has been so willing to work with faculty on modifying the rules for equivalencies so far. It is as if members of the EC have never worked with these administrators on this before. This “cautious optimism” is naiveté.

If the language about this workload committee also said EMU would roll back the rules for teaching loads to where it was before the last contract and we’re going to form a committee to try to come up with something smarter and more fair this time, then I’d be all for that.  If there was language that the goal of this committee is to get to a 3-3 load or whatever is similar and fair to all departments, I’d agree to that. If the leadership of the EMU-AAUP and the folks in the administration specifically agreed to enact some of the many previously proposed and rejected or ignored solutions my department offered to solve our load problems, then sure, I’d take that deal. If the sentence “Both parties acknowledge that participation on this Committee does not constitute negotiation over workload” wasn’t there I might be more inclined too– and what then is this committee for if not to negotiate over workload? And, of course, if we hadn’t been repeatedly and systematically screwed over by the administration on these issues for the last two years, I might feel differently. But otherwise, no.

In a masochistic kind of way, I’d like to be on this committee both to advocate for my department and to see how the sausage ends up getting made. But if history is at all instructive, this committee is going to be another clusterfuck.

Which brings me to my next point: this isn’t a contract extension. This is a new contract. A two year contract extension would mean the exact same terms as the old contract for another two years, but this new deal includes different pay raises, it includes different costs for insurance, and it includes this new committee about workload. New rules/new language = new contract.

The only reason I can figure as to why the EMU-AAUP and the administration want to call this an extension is because they want to convince (trick?) the faculty that it’s totally cool to accept this extension with no negotiations.  Which brings me to my next point:

What’s the hurry? Why not see this as an opening for negotiations rather than a way to bypass them entirely? The contract doesn’t expire until September. Bargaining council isn’t even done yet, and as far as I know there is no actual bargaining team in place. What is the urgency here?

And is this even legal? I’m no lawyer, but isn’t it bad faith negotiating and a violation of collective bargaining rules/norms for the administration to put down a “take it or leave it” offer and for the union to say yes without any counter-offer?

This is the part of this I really don’t get at all. It seems to me that a better response from the union would be to take this as a starting point for talks rather than a way to end them. Why hasn’t the EMU-AAUP said something along the lines of “Great! This is a great place to start! Here are these other issues we want to see if we can work out– workload, for example– and let’s work amicably together toward those goals with the intent to wrap up negotiations and the next contract some time in July or August.”

I will say it is probably true that the deal being presented by the administration in terms of salary, insurance, and benefits is about as good as we’re going to get. We’re probably not going to get better raises and benefits than what’s being offered, especially as the combination of demographics and bad decisions drives our enrollments lower and lower. I get it.

At the same time, taking this deal with no discussion and so quickly makes me think that the union leadership is unwilling or too scared to negotiate. Why? What is the elephant in the room that the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP and the administration can see that the rest of us can’t?

Like I said, I expect this new contract (not an extension) to pass. It will be a relief to not have to have a contentious negotiation– I totally agree with that– and both the union and the administration will cheerfully pat themselves on each others’ backs. But it also sets the stage for an even more shitty contract negotiation in 2022.

My prediction is that by the time the next contract negotiations come around, this workload committee will have been declared a failure. Faculty will present offers for “alternative models” for teaching workloads to the administration, all of which the administration will reject for the same reasons they’ve rejected them before. Faculty within the bargaining unit will also still not be able to agree on what is a “fair” teaching load across all units. Faculty in my department– and I presume other departments– will continue to be in a crazy situation where it is not always clear how many courses I am going to be teaching from term to term.

Further, all of the problems that EMU has right now in terms of finances will be just as bad– probably worse since we’ll be out of things we can try to sell off or outsource. Enrollment will continue to fall, and the President and the Provost will continue to be unable to do anything about it. Healthcare will be more expensive, there will be more pressure to mess with TIAA contributions, and there will be even less money for a salary increase. The one thing that we will continue spending money on is the one thing that matters to the Board of Regents, which is football.

I hope I’m wrong about all this, but I also fully expect to link to this post in a similar “I told you so” post in two years.

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