Eastern Michigan University pushes removing affordable access to health clinic and unstable working conditions during contract negotiations with Part-Time Lecturer Union
In an astonishing about-turn, EMU’s new lead negotiator, a high-cost anti-union lawyer from outside of the University, summarily dismissed an appointment structure that both sides had agreed on in principle just a few weeks ago. This new structure would have meant more job security for long-serving Part-Time Lecturers who have shown the value of their expertise, experience, and commitment to the students at EMU.
A new structure had been worked out between the teams with input by the Department Heads and the Union’s members. “The level of cooperation and inclusion of the various perspectives was unprecedented. Both teams kept reporting back to their constituents and managed to find a good, workable solution that would have benefited departments, lecturers, and students in the long run. Now the Administration has completely discarded months of work,” said Daric Thorne, EMUFT President.
When the negotiations began in February both sides agreed that a respectful, collaborative process would best serve the needs of all parties involved and would hopefully lead to improved relationships between the Administration and Part-Time Lecturers, which have been contentious in the past.
This week’s proposal on appointments mirrored the language of the current contract and completely ignored any of the challenges the current model holds for Part-Time Lecturers. Currently, long-serving employees, who for years have taught close to a full-time teaching assignment see their workload, and with that their livelihoods, reduced year after year.
EMUFT and the Administration agreed early in these negotiations that finding a better appointment structure was one of their key concerns, “Abandoning the work of several months is insulting and a colossal waste of time, effort and resources. Unlike their high-cost lawyer and the rest of their bargaining team, our team is made up of uncompensated, volunteer members who participated in this process in good faith for the betterment of their colleagues and for our students,” stated Thorne.
To add insult to injury, EMU also seems to have backed away from offering their Part-Time Lecturers access to the campus health clinic at the reduced staff rates. In this week’s proposal, this crucial access to the new health clinic, IHA Health Center @ EMU, had been removed by the Administration.
“It is unfathomable to me that, during a global pandemic, EMU would stoop to such levels while at the same time expecting the same Part-Time Lecturers to serve our students when we come back in the Fall”, said Thorne. Many Part-Time Lecturers live at or below the poverty line, working several jobs to make ends meet, and many do not have access to affordable health care.
This follows the university failing to engage with the union around the campus reopening in the Fall. Thorne recently published an open letter to the university calling on them to negotiate over the serious health impacts reopening poses to the employees and by extension to the students.
"The administration doesn't want to provide health insurance, they don't want us to have reasonable pay or job security, and they want to take away our access to more affordable health care at the campus clinic in the middle of a pandemic. Do they care that they are impacting the health and safety of their campus community, including putting our students at risk as well?"
It would appear that EMU is attempting to balance their budget on the backs of their lowest paid instructional staff while refusing them a chance to improve their positions in the future or to protect fair working conditions in the present.
To the Regents of Eastern Michigan University, President Jim Smith, Provost Rhonda Longworth, and Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Brian Pappas:
It is unfortunate to me that we find ourselves here – the university has hired an expensive union busting law firm to represent them in bargaining with our adjunct instructional unit, the administration has put together a committee - completely excluding lecturers from participation - to create a plan for opening in the fall, and your administration seems to be pushing a health and safety policy which is reactive (containment) instead of proactive. Your current plan completely fails to address the concerns of the EMU Federation of Teachers’ membership:
The current sick leave for the fall, especially among adjuncts, does not meet the needs demanded by COVID19. Adjuncts have only 3 days of sick leave, and are typically not eligible for FMLA benefits. What commitments is the University making to giving our units adequate health leave and support should they catch the virus while being required to teach on campus?
I understand that Eastern Michigan University recently has published a plan to re-open the university. This plan was not furnished to the EMU Federation of Teachers and the University has made no effort to engage with us around planning, despite our request for collaboration during a meeting in June.
This plan will likely impact our wages, hours and working conditions and we have requested again to participate in the process as a union. Reopening is a key juncture and presents safety issues that have not been seen in our lifetime. We would like to work on a collaborative and expedited basis to address conditions at the university that will be in the best interests of students, faculty, and staff. We know that you have been engaged in tactics to delay such requests to collaborate with tenured faculty. I am concerned that this tactic serves to undermine what I hope are the collective interests of all parties - having in place reasonable health and safety standards in the fall.
I hope to hear from you soon.
President Daric Thorne
Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers