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Tenure-stream faculty at Michigan State University begin union effort

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

Tenure-stream faculty members of Michigan State University are planning to form a new union, according to a statement posted by organizers Wednesday.

The Union of Tenure System Faculty would be the bargaining unit. The effort stems from wage and benefit cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic, said MSU psychology professor NiCole Buchanan.

"We were getting emails telling us that they were going to cut our salary, they were going to cut our retirement and they were going to do all these things," she said. "And at the bottom [of these emails] it would say 'unless you are part of one of our unions.' And for many, I think it clicked that that was the roadmap that we needed if we wanted to have equity."

Faculty members supporting unionization said two of their top priorities are greater job protections and influence in the university's administration.

"Unfortunately, in recent years, we have witnessed the erosion of tenure and academic freedom at MSU, and our voices are too often ignored," MSU chemistry professor Piotr Piecuch said in a statement. "The proposed union of tenure system faculty will help our voices be heard and respect be restored."

Faculty began handing out union cards in March 2022, Buchanan said. The union effort has seen substantial school support since it went public on November 1, she added.

"We believe we are at 45% of the entire tenure-stream faculty, [have] already indicated their support for a faculty union here on campus," Buchanan said. "We fully expect that we are going to hit that 50%-plus-one mark before the end of the year."

A 2021 resolution from the University's Board of Trustees prohibits Michigan State from taking a public stance on unionization.

"I am happy to have the faculty engage in comprehensive discussion and debate," Interim MSU Provost Thomas Jeitschko said in a statement. "While I am a faculty member as a professor of economics, as interim provost, I myself will not be part of that debate in light of the Board of Trustees’ resolution on this matter."

This story has been updated to reflect that the unionization effort includes tenure-stream faculty, not just faculty who already have tenure.

George Weykamp is a senior at the University of Michigan studying business law and history. He was the 2022 University Editor at The Michigan Daily where he oversaw coverage of the first firing of a University President in over a century as well as a historic sexual misconduct settlement.
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