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September 07, 2006

On Strike for Labor Day (Part 8)

After so many days at in the basement negotiating, today was a radical change of pace. No negotiations after the administration walked out, and the negotiating team got to enjoy the sunny day

EMU-aaup negotating team waits after administration walks away from talks 

EMU-AAUP negotiating team ready to finish negotiating the contract whenever management wants to return from the walkout

So at the moment, there are no negotiations and no scheduled negotiations. The only contact we had with the administration today was when we offered to call of the strike and return to class if they agreed to submit to binding arbitration. It took them not more than a few hours to send back a letter saying saying 'no.'

Meanwhile, their outside PR firm was at work.  As I mentioned in a previous post, they have hired an expensive Lansing PR firm to replace their own office of Public Communication. One recent press release stated that we walked away from a 16% increase in wages and benefits. I hope everyone is smart enough to know that there must be something wrong with this.

The 16% comes from adding the pay increases for all 5 years of the contract. There's also a 1% increase to the contribution the university makes to our retirement. So 3% for 5 years + 1% retirment = 16%. But, they want us to take a hit on what we contribute to health care that amounts to more than 1.6% in the first year. The 1% contribution to our retirement starts in year 2 of the contract, and phases in at .25% per year. (Amazing they can phase in their contribution to our retirement, but adamantly refused to phase in the increases in health care costs. When they presented the proposal, we joked that we were glad it was not an 8 year contract or that incrase woul dbe 12.5% a year for 8 years.)

What we're really looking at is a net wage increase of less than 1.5 in year 1 and the next 4 years are locked in at a net of about 3.2%. Since inflation this year is 4%, and likely to continue at this pace for the immediate future if the Federal Reserve makes all the right moves, we're looking at a serious erosion in real puchasing power: minus 3.5 year 1 and most likely a negative for the next four years as well.

The second bit of PR spin was an announcement about the deal purporting to show that EMU salaries are average compared to our peers. We KNOW this is not true and have asked for the names of the institutions they regard as our peers, which they will not provide. Suspicious.

In fact, when we did our salary presentation (pdf), we had data from the AAUP and presented on this point. Because there is disagreement about what our group is, we did it 3 ways - all with the same result. When we look at public universities in Michigan, our average is lower. It's the same even when we eliminate U of Michigan, which has substantially higher salaries and may not really be a comparable. We also use the MAC conference as a peer, with the same result (and we note our cost of living here is MUCH higher). The administration also has a peer group they chose several years ago after an extensive analysis, because they wanted to do better benchmarking. Their chosen peer group also shows us below average, and they also have NOT used their own previously selected peer group as the peers for the latest - and more positive - comparison.

While there are other similar points to make about PR spin, there's a larger issue: COLLECTIVE BARGAINING SHOULD BE ABOUT NEGOTIATING TO A MUTUALLY ACCEPTABLE RESULT, NOT IMPOSING A CONTRACT WHEN YOU GET TIRED. They can't just impose a contract  - whatever the terms - because it's less painful than doing it right. They can't just impose a contract because it gives them a better deal than doing it the right way.

negotiating team still waiting 

EMU-AAUP negotiating team bored, but still waiting and ready to finish the contract negotiations

The bargaining process would work best if we could sit down with administration people and talk about issues facing the university and use the opportunity to address some of them. Some issues from both sides get left behind, but in the end there's an agreement we arrived at mutually. The dynamic is different when you have an outside lawyer and outside PR firm working the negotiations to impose a settlement at the end on a schedule and terms convenient to the administration.

Also, if this works, they'll do it again next time - most likely with worse terms for us. If they are willing to impose a contract, what will they be willing to impose in the meantime? The university president appointed the Provost- the top academic official - without any formal faculty input or consultation. What else around the university will happen by fiat rather than as a result of the shared governance their propaganda mission and vision statement says are so cherished?  

This is

  • wrong as far as collective bargaining goes
  • harmful to the already bad labor-management dynamic here. Personally, I'll have a really bad attitude that will continue for a while. It will worsen every time I hear about the 'university community' and all the vale of shared governance
  • sets a bad precedent for future negotiaions
  • sets a bad precedent for more administrative fiats in the years before the next contract

More on these ideas soon.

More info at EMU-AAUP website. Our chief negotiator also maintains a blog with more specific information about the negotiations and issues.

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