Eastern Michigan Faculty Strike for Healthcare, Governance

Tenured and tenured faculty members at Eastern Michigan University went on indefinite strike Wednesday as negotiations for a new contract stalled. Dozens of professors spent much of the day on the campus picket line, while the university ordered students to attend classes and wait 15 minutes to see if an instructor showed up. Many professors did not, following a 91% faculty vote in favor of the strike on Tuesday.

Negotiations are underway on Wednesday, with no agreement being reached. By the end of the day, Eastern Michigan had filed a complaint with the Washtenaw County Circuit Court asking for an injunction ordering faculty members to return to work. Government employee strikes are illegal in Michigan, and the university’s complaint cited injuries to students and others.

“Our main goal is to bring teachers back into the classroom so that our students can continue their education,” said Walter Kraft, spokesman for the university. “Even a one-day break is significant for our students and we are committed to providing them with a comprehensive and positive academic experience, particularly as negotiations continued today with the assistance of a state-appointed mediator.”

The faculty union affiliated with the American Association of College Professors said the university’s legal effort would fail and accused eastern Michigan of repeated unfair work practices and exaggerating the effect of a 24-hour strike on students . The university denies violations of unfair labor practices.

Mohamed El-Sayed, engineering professor and chairman of the faculty union, said: “Instead of filing meritless lawsuits, EMU administrators should focus their efforts on good faith bargaining so that they can reach a fair deal that support our students. “

Impasse on premiums

The faculty union’s previous contract expired a week ago, having been extended several times since it was originally inked in 2015. The sticking points for the replacement contract include health awards and shared governance. Faculty negotiators also say the university stood up to bargaining and only revealed important proposals after talks were already underway this summer.

“We believe the university administration has delayed negotiations unnecessarily,” said Matthew Kirkpatrick, associate professor of English and chair of the faculty bargaining team. “If you’re going to drastically change the benefits to your employees, this is a conversation we should have had long before we negotiated.”

Under a Michigan law enacted in 2012, public employers are limited in terms of what they can contribute to employee healthcare costs. To comply with this law, institutions must comply with dollar limits on what employee plans will contribute or adopt an 80-20 cost-sharing model where the employer covers 80% of the plan and the employee contributes the rest.

As of Wednesday, eastern Michigan was still offering the faculty union a rigid model, which union members believe would exorbitantly increase health care costs for most members, especially those with families. To compensate for the change, the university offered union members a salary increase of approximately 6% ($ 5,600) in the first year of the contract, followed by incremental increases each year thereafter. But the union says this is insufficient, especially when taking into account the inflation rate of 9%. The faculty counter offer is an extra initial $ 3,200 base salary increase and the 80-20 model.

A little background: under the university’s hard cap proposal, a faculty member with a family who elected Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan would see their awards jump 176% from their own. current contribution. With the union’s preferred 80-20 model option, that employee’s contribution would increase by 89%. It’s still steep, but it’s better than the alternative, from the union’s point of view. In dollars, this increase for a family with the hard-cap model would be about $ 5,300 and about $ 2,700 with the 80-20 model, according to union information.

Shared governance and other concerns

Underlying the health battle is the union’s disapproval of how the university spends its money. The union says Eastern Michigan has more managers per full-time staff member (including education staff) than its peer institutions. And while the entire institution has faced staff cuts in light of a decrease in enrollments since 2016, according to union data, professional administrative and athletic trainer positions have only decreased nominally, by about 1.8% each. , against 18% for tenured teachers.

“Our education budget has collapsed. Our administrative costs have remained the same and in some cases have even increased, “said Kirkpatrick.” This is part of why it’s easy for our faculty to ignite. “

Another concern for faculty is shared governance on campus. El-Sayed, the president of the union, said the negotiators asked to include in the contract reference to a long-standing joint statement on shared governance of the AAUP, the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. Of particular importance for the union is that the administration engages in a tradition – outlined in the joint declaration – of returning consensus on curricular and educational issues to the faculty. Yet, so far, the university has rejected this idea, El-Sayed said.

Currently, Eastern Michigan describes its shared governance contract proposal as follows: “The university is committed to the principles of shared governance. In addition to the language in the expired contract, the University has proposed that the Faculty Senate and the University review their committees including the terms of service of the members, the skills required of the committee members and the areas of academic and student affairs in which the committee is expected to provide input to the faculty. This process can also identify the review, merger or elimination of existing committees and the creation of new committees. This aims to strengthen understanding and communication between the parties, promoting a common sense of commitment in the search for solutions that allow us to carry out the mission of the University and the students served together “.

The East Michigan Faculty Senate last year voted no confidence in President James Smith; Leigh Greden, his chief of staff; and Mike Valdes, chief financial officer. In doing so, faculty members argued that Smith had not practiced shared governance or transparency, especially with regards to financial decisions and public-private partnerships.

Following the vote, the Senate sent a letter to Smith and the university’s Board of Regents asking to turn the strategic plan into a living document guiding financial operations and decisions, adopt the recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Diversity and l ‘inclusion, commit to shared governance, and generally act for the public good.

Marilyn Corsianos, president of the Senate and professor of sociology and criminology, said what the faculty wants now is “very simple: we want a fair and equitable contract for our faculty.”

While the administration offers some sort of pay raise, he said, inflation and rising healthcare costs “will ultimately mean a loss of thousands of dollars” for professors.

In addition to compensation and significant concerns about pay equity among professors, Corsianos said: “The faculty also wants to see a shared governance model put in place that ensures accountability on the part of the administration and compels it to seek meaningful input from faculty on key decisions affecting our students, the faculty and the campus community. Too often we learn of important decisions afterwards. “

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