Phil: When I first heard my union friends talking about “going to bargaining,” I was confused. What did they mean? When I got answers to this question, I was even more confused. Because “going to bargaining” means, essentially, sitting in a room all day, while two teams of negotiators–one representing a union, one representing management–trade proposals back and forth, ask questions, envision scenarios. Pay lecturers for doing [X], says Our Team. But who counts as a “Lecturer”?, says the other team. In a way, it’s like listening to people interpret a religious text. “Don’t work on the sabbath.” “Ah. But what if your horse gets stuck in a hole? Do you have to leave him there?”
I was initially unable to see how my silent presence improved any aspect of this scenario.
My ignorance was no accident, it turns out–and it plays right into management’s hands. When people who aren’t part of the bargaining team show up on bargaining days, it does three things:
One, it makes management think about what they’re saying. It’s easy to tell an isolated, lonely bargaining team that the “university has no interest” in lecturers’ labor conditions. It’s another thing to say that at a bargaining team, plus a roomful of strangers who have been showing up consistently, and already look mad enough to strike if not set things on fire.
Two, it shows that we’ve got each others’ backs. A room full of lecturers–some who know each other and work together, many who don’t–demonstrates that we care about each others’ experiences. It shows admin that, and just as importantly, it shows us that. Academia can feel like a solitary existence, even on the most bustling of campuses. For full-time lecturers who have service or research duties, it can feel like ALL we have time for is keeping up with our work (make no mistake–that’s also no accident). For lecturers who cobble together a living with several part time jobs, it can feel like all we have time for is rushing from one gig to another. Like we’re just scraping by alone. But the thing is, we have each other’s backs. And bargaining is a beautiful reminder of that.
Three, it gives every member of LEO an opportunity to have a say in the decision-making. How, you ask? By being in “The Room Where it Happens” for bargaining and caucus.
Shel: Here’s what happens in “the room where it happens”:
- For over a year, the LEO bargaining team and contract committee have been researching and developing our platform and drafting the proposals. But the work isn’t done.
- The team has presented all of our proposals to admin at the bargaining table. But the work isn’t done.
- The admin team has begun returning counterproposals to us. (Spoiler alert: often the first few rounds of these “counterproposals” consist of striking our language and returning to the original contract language.) Our lead bargainer asks a few questions about their proposals, and we break to caucus.
- What’s a caucus? A caucus is a chance for the bargaining team and the membership to talk about what’s been said at the table, what we think about it, and then decide how to respond. Oftentimes that even includes drafting our counterproposals then and there. (Spoiler alert: Many of our early counterproposals consist of replacing the language they struck.) But the work isn’t done.
- Then the admin team and the LEO team return to the bargaining table, where the cycle starts again, with little gains and concessions here and there on either side, more questions and answers, and probably increasing testiness about some issues that the University would rather not answer for.
So yes, membership in the room (and the bargaining teams, except for the lead bargainers) mostly sit quietly. But we listen. And we watch. And we react with our faces and our body language. And while that may seem like nothing, it’s everything. It’s a show of strength, of solidarity, and of commitment. And our presence or absence tells the university exactly how seriously to take us.
“What to Expect from Union Bargaining DIGITAL” – Here you’ll find a handy sheet with an overview of the information in this post (and more!) about bargaining.
We have fewer than ten weeks of bargaining left in the semester. If you could get a $20,000 raise, would it be worth 2 hours a week of your time? Because if enough of us show up at bargaining, and we build that number every week, we’ve got the chance to get the best contract we’ve ever gotten. We’re in. Are you?
–Your Ann Arbor Campus Co-Chairs,
Phil Christman & Shelley Manis