On the Eve of a (Possible) Strike, Thinking Back on the Strike of 2006

We started classes here at EMU on Monday, August 29, and we might be halting them– at least all the ones taught by faculty– on Thursday, September 1, because that’s when the EMU-AAUP faculty union contract expires. Here’s a link to a story about all this on the Detroit NBC affiliate’s web site which kind of gets it right, but not quite.

I think the main sticking point right now is trying to figure out a way to give everyone a modest raise but that also covers a steep increase in health insurance. That is not an easy problem to solve at all because there are so many variables in play. For example, our only son is turning 25 and thus just about done with being eligible for our insurance anyway, and both my wife and I are in the “senior faculty” category and thus a lot more secure and settled in our positions. So for me, a contract that pays 3-4% a year plus some money to offset the increase in insurance premiums is fine. But for someone without that level of seniority (and the pay raises that accompany that) or who has many more dependents, especially if some of those children, spouses, other insured family members have some kind of condition that requires more elaborate (and expensive) insurance, the deal that EMU administration is proposing– even as they characterize it as an “up to 8% raise for most faculty”– really could be a pay cut for a lot of folks.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of that on my first day of teaching Tuesday and as I explained to my students that I might be on strike on Thursday, and I realized that the last time the EMU faculty went on strike was way back in the fall of 2006. This was before things like Facebook or Twitter were much of a thing, and I spent most of the energy I now spend on social media just on blogging here. And back during the strike, I blogged about it A LOT.

I don’t even know how many posts I wrote about all this and labeled The Strike of 2006— maybe 40? Maybe more? The chronology is a bit wonky here, so the “beginning” (back in August 2006) starts on the bottom of page 5 of this archive. It’s not worth rehashing all of it, but there are some interesting things. Once again, healthcare costs were the sticking point, which also once again reminds me that if we had a version of the kind of universal/government run health care program that’s available in most of the other countries in the world, or if we could just extend Medicare to everyone and not just people over 65, we probably would not have gone on strike back then, and we certainly wouldn’t go on strike now. But I digress.

More problematically perhaps, the other similarity between then and now seems to be the approach to negotiations taken by the administration. They have once again hired Dykema’s James P. Greene, who was even before the 2006 strike known around EMU as a “union busting” lawyer. I think he was the administration’s main negotiator before 2006 (and I recall being on strike a couple times before 2006 when I believe Greene was in charge), and that ended up being the ugliest strike in my time here. Back in 2006, there were complaints from both sides at the table similar to what we have now: a lack of willingness to actually negotiate, a lot of sketchy numbers being presented (mostly by the administration), a lot of “we almost have a deal” until we don’t, mediators, etc.

Hopefully, things will not turn as ugly as they did in 2006. For example, after being out on strike for four days, EMU (from then president Jim Fallon and BoR chair Karen Valvo) issued an ultimatum demanding (basically) that the faculty give up their childish strike and accept the administration’s terms by 10 PM on September 6 “or else.” Here’s my blog post about that, and (thanks to the Wayback Machine) here’s the administration’s original press release on all this. Well, that move (IMO) backfired on the administration badly. Before that, a lot of faculty– including me– were starting to say to each other that maybe it’d be best to settle and get on with the school year. But that threat really pissed people off, and (a long story made much shorter) we ended up staying out on strike for about two weeks, we “suspended” the strike and went back to work while the university and the union went through a “fact finding” and arbitration process that didn’t get resolved until the following spring. We actually ended up with a deal that was closer to what the faculty was originally asking for, but like I said, I’d just as soon avoid that.

One other difference I’m noticing this time around, at least in myself: I think the union/faculty is even more right this time around. As I wrote here way back when, I thought both sides of the table were playing pretty “fast and loose” with some of the facts in the name of a pissing contest that they both hoped to win. There’s still some of that going on, no question. But I think the administration is the one that’s prolonging this thing this time.

I guess we’ll see what the next 24 or so hours brings. Hopefully we’ll have a deal because a strike is not a “win” for anyone, not for our students of course, but not for the administration or the faculty either. Hopefully, the administration does recall that the last time they tried these tough guy bullshit tactics.

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