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Strike is possible as UM lecturers push for higher pay

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Some faculty members at the University of Michigan are demanding better pay, and say they’re willing to go on strike to get it.

The Lecturers' Employee Organization represents over 1500 non-tenure-track teaching faculty across the university’s three campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint. A group of LEO members met Friday on the UM-Dearborn campus to talk strategy about ongoing contract negotiations.

UM and LEO have been in contract talks since last fall, but the union says what the university has offered so far in terms of pay is totally inadequate.

Currently, full-time (3-4 classes per semester) starting lecturers on the Dearborn and Flint campuses make just over $28,000 a year, and the average full-time lecturer makes around $40,000 per year, union officials say. 

LEO has asked UM for “substantial increases” in pay for those starting lecturers, as well as pay boosts for long-term lecturers whose pay has stagnated, says union bargaining team member Lisa Bradshaw.

But what the university has offered so far wouldn’t boost minimum starting salaries above $30,000 year, and would offer only some longer-term employees annual increases that don’t keep up with inflation.

Bradshaw says the possibility of a vote later this month authorizing a potential strike is just one pressure tactic to show “we’re really serious about this,” Bradshaw said.

The current message to UM is that lecturers are “really ready to take action if it’s necessary to make you hear us, and to come back with something that we can all live with,” she added.

Claudia Walters, a social sciences lecturer at UM-Dearborn, says the union hopes to wrap up negotiations “in the next few weeks,” and will only move to a possible strike if “the administration is not moving much in our direction.”

“This is the time to talk to everybody, to get everybody fired up, and to start making some noise,” Walters said.“To be teaching at a prestigious university like the University of Michigan, it’s embarrassing when I tell my friends how little I make. And I think it is embarrassing for the institution to be paying as little as they do.”

UM has a nearly $11 billion endowment, and courses taught by LEO members generate a $377 annual million surplus for the university, but “UM lecturers are paid less than community college and high school teachers in surrounding communities, and less than their counterparts in many of UM’s peer institutions,” according to a statement from LEO.

LEO says their members teach around 50% of all classes on the Dearborn and Flint campuses, and around 30% of classes in Ann Arbor.

Bradshaw says contract talks aren’t totally stalled. The two sides have made “incremental gains on some non-monetary things,” and “the money always comes at the end, progress can come really rapidly at the end,” she said.

That sentiment was echoed by UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.

"The university and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization have been working diligently toward resolution of a large number of changes to the contract proposed by the union,” Fitzgerald said Friday via email.

“It is typical in most contract talks for noneconomic issues to be resolved before economic issues. The negotiation teams continue to meet weekly (including today) and are making progress.”

The LEO’s contract expires April 20. The union has tentatively scheduled a strike authorization vote for late March and then a potential strike date for the second week of April.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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