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September 03, 2006

On Strike for Labor Day? (Part 5)

Today started off nicely with some picketing under nice weather. But by evening we were back to playing hardball. The administration threatened to walk out of negotiations if there was not a settlement by Tues at 10pm and they're trying to set the ground work for an injunction against the strike.

In the morning, faculty passed out information to new students about the strike. I was going to take a break, but it was a nice day and I've found that wandering around the pickets is invigorating. It's a good chance to talk with colleagues and hear some of their thoughts. The most prominant theme is not fucking messing with health care.

don't mess with our health care 

The university president and the Provost put on a big picnic for students, and there were many faculty would with signs. The idea was not to interrupt anything, but be a visible presence throughout the event. Mission accomplished.

faculty picketing at administration picnic 

I did a bit of work on my own with the health care material to get ready for the session tonight. The team then met for a while to talk strategy and get the proposals together. For a change, they were on time and ready to start.

The first item of business was a letter from the university president and Chair of the Board or Regents: if there's no settlement by Tues night, they will walk away from classes. We haven't seen much of the president, and he didn't like the union before the strike, but it's still surprising his leadership away from having the discussion. Within an hour of their press release, we had our own out saying we were quite ready to keep talking, and even go all Tues night to reach a settlelemt before classes start Wed morning. The press release noted (as I did in an earlier posting) that two years ago we negotiated from 3pm to 7:30am the next morning and reached an agreement 30 minutes before classes started.

I laughed at part of the release that noted the strike was causing "irreparable injury" to the students and university. Nice hyperbole.  What I learned later was that they're setting up grounds for an injunction against our strike. Since we have not been violent and there's no "breach of the peace." (We're a bunch of PhDs with an average age over 50.) So the only ground left for a court to potentially stop the strike is irreparable injury.

But missing a day or two of classes isn't irreparable. In fact, I was here in 2000 when we had a strike that lasted for a week. Part of the deal to end the strike was to "make the students whole" by doing something extra to make up for the missed classes. Basically, we had to figure something out and submit it to the Dept Head for approval.

Frankly, what is becomming irreparably injured is the faculty's confidence in the administration to do the right thing. Some words and actions can't be easily undone, and when this gets settled we'll all have to work together on the same campus.

I have used this space to explore some of the specific issues we're having here, and I'm sure some of them - health care, pay cuts, no respect - resonate widely. But I was reading a few pieces that illustrate how this strike does fit into the larger picture.

The Employees 2006 Bill of Slights:

According to the Kronos survey, conducted by Harris Interactive as an online poll without using a random sample, 61 percent of employed adults say they are not experiencing the benefits of an improved economy in their work lives...


No wonder workers are feeling the pain: Inflation is running at an annual rate of 4.8 percent so far this year, higher than any yearly increase since 1991. But wages are not increasing at the same rate, according to a Labor Department report released last month. Average weekly earnings fell 0.1 percent in July and bought 0.1 percent less in July than a year earlier.

Itkin said a lot of the blame lies in the fact that employees believe that they working hard but are underappreciated. Eighty percent of respondents indicated they wanted to be appreciated, yet only 36 percent thought their employers appreciated them.

In a separate report, almost all (97 percent) of the 23,000 or so female workers who chose to respond to an online survey said they were most concerned about not being able to afford health care, according to "Ask a Working Woman," a survey by the AFL-CIO and Working America, its affiliate.

Many think chief executive pay should be limited when workers are losing benefits or being laid off (48 percent), and nine out of 10 participants said they were more worried and concerned about the future of young people going into the workforce than they were hopeful and confident.

Grim news on this last day of summer freedom, indeed.


According to another Labor Day report, this one a scientific random-sample survey released last week by the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of all workers are unhappy with health insurance benefits (27 percent), their retirement plan (28 percent), the amount of money they earn (24 percent) and the level of their job stress (27 percent).

 Happy Labor Day

From Amy Joyce, The Employees 2006 Bill of Slights. Washington Post, September 3, 2006, p F1.

Another column in the Washington Post by Harold Myerson commented

Labor Day is almost upon us, and like some of my fellow graybeards, I can, if I concentrate, actually remember what it was that this holiday once celebrated. Something about America being the land of broadly shared prosperity. Something about America being the first nation in human history that had a middle-class majority, where parents had every reason to think their children would fare even better than they had.


For the bottom 90 percent of the American workforce, work just doesn't pay, or provide security, as it used to.

Devaluing labor is the very essence of our economy. I know that airlines are a particularly embattled industry, but my eye was recently caught by a story on Mesaba Airlines, an affiliate of Northwest, where the starting annual salary for pilots is $21,000 a year, and where the company is seeking a pay cut of 19 percent. Maybe Mesaba's plan is to have its pilots hit up passengers for tips.

Labor Day is almost upon us. What a joke.

 Start today: 10:15am

Finish: 10pm 

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