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September 16, 2006

On Strike for Labor Day (Part 12)

In the last post, the administration was negotiating again, and we were about 20 hours into the session. Our team was waiting for a final offer to take back to the faculty.

The offer that came through was poor. More accurately, it was the same poor offer they put on the table on Sept 5 before they walked out. Basically, they spent more than 20 hours repackaging it and trying to dress it up. But shifting money from one category to the other (or from one pocket to another in the same pair of your jeans) doesn't change anything, even though it the final offer might make for a better press release.

We left the table about 5:30am after starting at 9:30am the previous day. The total increase int he administration's offer was about $20,000, which you'd need to spread across 650 faculty members over 3 years. (And you thought I was exaggerating they they just shifted it around!)

By the time we broke down the room, the 6am faculty vigil was starting. As exhausted as I was, it was actually nice to see people there, to go and talk and share some of the experience. But after 30 or 45 minutes, I had to go home and crash and before the noon faculty meeting where we'd get a sense fo the group on what to do next.

reject last best offer

I love the 'last best offer' and garbage can! From the picketing in front of the President's house last week 

To no one's suprise, the overwhelming sentiment was to reject the administration's offer. The quention was whether to return to strike or seek fact-finding under the state labor law. For the good of the students and university, we chose the latter path. This involves both sides submitting reports to a neutral party, who will then make recommendations on how to resolve the dispute. It's advisory, and we fully expect that the administration will ignore recommendations favorable to us. Obviously, that wouldn't be good, and a part of our strategy will be to put pressure on them to accept the recommendations in their entirety.

Because this process can take from two to six months, this series will continue as we wind through the process. I do intend to use the blog for other topics in between. But having started this account, it makes sense to follow the story through to the end. (I'll try to make a link or page that collects all the various parts for easy reference.)

For the mement, we're organizing for the next stages: getting the report ready, an organizing committee, and a communications committee that I'll be pulling together. So far we have a number of enthusiastic volunteers. While that's good for us, it's also bad in that many faculty have seen the dark side of the administration: they've seen the stonewalling, the screwed up press releases trying to paint us in a bad light, and the final day of bargaining wasting our time.

Worse still, it's sinking in that they have hired a high-priced law firm to run negotiations and keep us from making gains, a high-priced lansing lobbying/PR firm to make faculty look bad, and now they'll be hiring another outside firm to do the fact-finding report.  Seems pretty obvious they spent more trying to keep us down than what it would have cost to just settle the contract and give us a pay increase consistent with the average in the state. That's all we wanted. And they say the respect us, but they'd rather pay more to people keep an average settlement from us and make us look bad for asking.

president fallon - respect faculty!!

They probably still don't understand it's about respect. Sigh. From picketing in front of President Fallon's house last week.  

We have some key questions about how this will play out - what kind of attitude will the faculty have down the road? Will it be a return to normal, or will the frustration, anger and disappointment at the administration continue? We also have some questions about how the fact-finding process will unfold that I'll have to write about. Plus, I need to debrief on some topics I on which I had to be silent earlier. 

Meanwhile, it does seem funny to be back to a more regular life and all the hours of stress, strategy and negotiations. I think the trick will be to quickly move forward with the next phase. So far, we have put up a good fight against an adminsitration more determined than we imagined to screw us. We maintained a strike for 11 days, and faculty were getting up at 4:30am to jump in front of trucks to stop deliveries.  After nine days of strike and picketing, more than 125 showed up to picket the President's house on a Sunday afternoon. We didn't get the contract we wanted - yet! - but they didn't break the union, we didn't self-destruct, and we've emerged through an intense labor strife with a high degree of solidarity and commitement to move forward.

So, the story - and the fight - ain't over. Stay tuned.  

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