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September 02, 2006

On Strike for Labor Day? (Part 4)

After some long days, it was great to have a break. I slept for 10 hours and had a long, hot shower. While 'feeling like a new man' is a bit of an exaggeration, I do feel reinvigorated for the next push - which will be through Wed at 8am when classes are supposed to start. My colleagues on the negotiating team feel similarly uplifted from sleep, playing with their kids and taking care of basic chores like mowing the lawn.

I did have to spend some time dealing with a health care proposal I'll talk about below. But I noticed a press release from the university about the union strike that deserves comment.

EMU-AAUP on strike signs 

Parties in collective bargaining are required to bargain in good faith, and a breach of that can lead to the filing of an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP). My union has filed several against the administration because of delays and refusal to provide data required for bargaining. Being college professors, we did file a number of requests and worse still, we analyze the data and use it to argue with. (Check out some of the presentations on the union's website.)

The ULP's we filed related to health care data and gave rise to some frustrations that are noticable in reading my last post.  Other requests were for their side to produce an itemized estimate of costs saving for their health care proposal - something it seems should be part of bargaining if you're trying to have an intelligent debate or discussion.

How much do you hope to save by eliminating choice and forcing us on the same plan? How much of the savings is in doctors, how much from drugs, and how much for higher premium contributions? Maybe we could find a less disruptive way to save the same amount - which is finally the way the negotiations are going now that we're on strike.

Other data requests relate to administrative letters of appointment to see salary and benefits. If the administration claims they are broke and everyone needs to pay more for health care, what are they paying new administrative hires and what benefits do they have? The administration also plays a shuffle game by announcing administrative firings. Several weeks later, they re-hire some of those people and put them into the same job with a new title. So the 'savings' from the reorganization is questionable. Worse still, some of the fired administrators go back to faculty status, but with a year leave during which time their 'faculty' salary is part of faculty payroll. So some budget and organizational detail is crucial to get an accurate picture.

Yesterday, the administration announced it may file its own ULP against us. They claim that on the day of the strike we were not really bargaining, but killing time waiting for the strike - a practice they consider 'shallow' bargaining and not done in good faith. Substantively, this isn't true, and a record of proposals for the day would show we moved more than they did. (We also have a record of requesting more meetings several times in the last month, while they have refused and cancelled a session.)

When we filed out ULPs several weeks ago, we were told they would be heard Sept 20 something. So this mess will be long resloved by then. If the administration files now, it will likely be heard in mid-Oct, long, long after the strike is resolved. Why do it? To put it in a press release and be able to say they were filing it when they do media appearances.

9-3strikevote.jpg

While I was in the office, I saw the tally of the first strike authorization vote. This was to authorize the negotiating team to use th threat of a strike. We then have a second vote on whether to actually authorize a strike.

The negotiating task for today was related to health care. Several us of met this afternoon to review some material and find a way to offset some of the university's increasing health care costs without screwing faculty. Much easier said than done of course.

Currently, we have three plans - and I noted a bit of background on the situation in the previous post.  So the challenge is what to do and how to do it fairly. One plan (the PPO) is cheaper than the other two. So should the faculty not on the PPO pay more? Should the increased share be across the board - eevryone pay a set amount? It sounds fair, but the fixed amount is a different percent of salary. (Profs in Teacher's Education may make less than $50,000, while those in the Business School may make more than twice that.) Paying a percentage of salary is a possibility, but that means a healthy Business School prof pays a great deal while an unhealth faculty in another discipline pays little. You can charge people for the health care they use, but that means chronically sick people also have financial hardships, which defeats the purpose of insurance and collectivity.

I can't for the moment say much about what we decided, but we did try to balance the options. We had people from the two largest plans there and spent some time working through the types of variables we could manipulate (doctor co-pays, drug co-pays, deductables and premium contributions). Tomorrow, we run it past the rest of the team and merge it with a compensation package for a meeting at 6pm to negotiate.

 picket central sign at EMU-AAUP office

More generally, picketing went well today during the student move-in. Tomorrow I'll be down on campus for a big picnick the administrators put on for the new students. No doubt we'll have arguments over how close we can be.

Start 3:30

Finish 7:30 

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Paul

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