Keep the Pressure On

The other day some of us bargained while others occupied the Provost’s office. (Shoutouts to Tony Hessenthaler and Cindee Giffin for eloquently stating our case on local TV.) In Dearborn, lecturers disrupted the groundbreaking ceremony for the ELB. (Admin claims they can’t spare another cent for Dearborn or Flint, but somehow we can spend $90 million on another fancy building.)

Our message to the Provost and President: this ain’t anywhere near over.

We’ll be bargaining tomorrow at 6PM at Academic HR on the corner of Hoover and Greene–with a salary counter from them. On Friday, we’ll bargain at Pierpont Commons on North Campus again.

Keep your eyes peeled for further bargaining this coming Sunday and Monday, too, though we don’t know details yet.

Don’t Dream It’s Over

On Sunday night, some lecturers were glad to hear there’d been enough movement from administration for the UC and bargaining team to temporarily call off our planned strike.

And some lecturers were less happy.

One thing we all agree on is that nobody is happy with our existing contract, or the way U of M has traditionally treated us. We also all agree that we are not taking the proposal admin offered Sunday night. Thus, we did not, contrary to some early reports, sign a Tentative Agreement, and we have no intention of taking this deal.

So what did the proposed deal look like?  Minimum salaries for LI/IIs would increase over three years as listed below.

Ann Arbor Dearborn Flint
Current $34,500 $28,300 $27,300
Admin’s proposal $43,000, $44,400, $45,000 (2018-20) $35,000, $36,000, $37,000 (same) $34,000, $35,000, $36,000 (same)
Our proposal $58,000, $60,000, $62,000 $54,100, $56,100, $58,100 $54,100, $56,100, $58,100

For LIII /IVs, add $2000 to all figures above.

On the equity adjustments for years of service, they are proposing between $200 and $470 per year of service (with long-serving lecs getting a higher adjustment). They offered this after repeatedly saying that no way no how would they move on the principle of equity between the three campuses. Find more detailed calculations here.

We have agreement that of those who make between  $80,000 and $95,000, the boost will be a combination of $$ added to the FTR and a lump sum payment. For those over $95,000, the entire equity pay will come as a lump sum.

Finally, annual raises were proposed as 2.5% a year in AA, and tied to tenure-track in Flint and Dearborn.

Obviously, Admin’s numbers are still far from what we’ve demanded, and there was no question of taking the deal. That isn’t what we voted on. The question we were presented with was this: Has the administration moved enough that we now believe we can get more by not striking than by striking? And though everyone in the large majority that voted “Yes” took a slightly different path there, “Yes” is where we ended up.

Why did we call it off?

  • They moved. The current numbers represent a move from “insulting” to “inadequate.” That may not sound like much, but it’s a break not only with the University’s practice throughout this contract campaign, but with the University’s treatment of lecturers since before the organization of LEO. The proposed raises that we pointedly did not accept are … also higher than our last four contracts combined. For Ann Arbor lecturers making the minimums, it is, by the end of three years, a five-digit raise. For Dearborn and Flint lecturers, it is, by the same point in time, close to that. There were at least a few in the room who literally never imagined we’d get this far. The administration needs to throw millions more at us for this to be over, but our mantra going into this past weekend was “significant movement, or we walk,” and we could not honestly claim that insulting-to-inadequate wasn’t significant movement.
  • We arguably get more out of not striking than striking. We believed that absent something bigger than a two-day strike, admin was not going to put much more on the table to reduce, say, a two-day strike to a one-day strike. Another way to put this is that, by 6PM Sunday, we were looking at an offer that already fully reflected the threat we were able to put together, and that, if we spurned it, we’d be looking at the same offer on Tuesday … having just played every last card.
  • We were voting on behalf of everybody. Many people signed up to picket because they wanted to picket. More signed expressly because they’d been told, correctly, by organizers or fellow members, that — say it with me now — “The best way to make sure we don’t have to strike is to be ready to strike.” Personally, I woke up Sunday morning absolutely convinced we’d walk. But when we voted, we all knew we had to weigh both these very numerous sets of people in mind.
  • Striking under our current contract would alienate the Regents and other potential allies. Members of the bargaining committee and the UC differ in terms of how much we believe the Regents are willing to or can help us. But their support in this campaign is public and unprecedented, and striking would have moved them out of the “support” column.
  • Retaliation from Lansing. We had wrestled with this possibility in a more general way throughout the campaign, and most of us felt that Michigan’s anti-union legislators are gonna do what Michigan’s anti-union legislators are gonna do, and that we can’t be ruled by such considerations. But a high-profile strike at U of M, occurring on the very day that legislators return from home districts, with an offer on the table that the press would be sure to characterize as “a five-digit raise,” along with all these other considerations, made this particular strike right now (not any strike ever) seem like less of a good idea.

As Jill Darling puts it: “Because we saw so much active support from lecs and allies who were willing to stand up on the picket lines, we were able to get stronger proposals on pay and equity than we have seen before. But these proposals are still far below our goals: to raise all lecturers out of poverty wages (eg. standard of living reports for all three campus counties) and to get pay that reflects our professional value.

And so we need to keep the momentum, keep putting pressure on the administration, keep demanding more. And we won’t settle for anything less than fair and respectable.”

We bargain again this Friday from 10-5 in Palmer Commons.

Maybe you think we should have struck. Maybe you’re thanking your stars we didn’t.

Either way, we all need to continue to show up.

On Striking Through

The writer Annie Dillard tells the story of the time she learned to split wood with an ax. She couldn’t do it till she realized that you needed to aim at the ground beneath the wood–not at the wood itself. Only then could she strike with the necessary intensity.

It seems like a law of adult life: everything hits at once. The month when your students need you the most is also the week when your volunteer commitments heat up, your boss at your side gig imposes twenty deadlines, the kids need you to go to their school play (or their rally to save America from gun-worship), and the LEO contract negotiations that may save you from that side gig get pretty crazy too.

But with all this, it’s important not to forget the bread-and-butter activity of a contract campaign: Going to bargaining! Friday is our last open bargaining session of the year, meaning you can invite your students, spouses, tenure-track friends, and other allies.

A big turnout on a day like this lets the administration know, as we go into a weekend that very likely eventuates in a strike, that LEO stands united, and that we carry the support of our allies.

Let’s keep the pressure on through the weekend. Let’s aim at the ground beneath.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Potential LEO Two-Day Work Stoppage

Lecturers have been taking action: showing up to bargaining, attending regents’ meetings, and making other public statements about our situation. In response, administration has started improving their financial offer, but not by enough. Over 80% of LEO members responding to electronic ballot voted last week to authorize the bargaining team and elected Union Council to call the work stoppage on April 9 and 10 if we don’t see significant improvement on our most important demands. Administration is moving because we’ve built a movement; let’s see it through.

What is “the contract”? Why is there a campaign for a contract?

“The contract” is the general term for the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the university. During negotiations for a new contract, the union engages in a “campaign,” a series of events designed to show power and encourage the university to sign a favorable contract.

When does the current contract expire?

April 20, 2018.

What events has the union planned as a part of the campaign?

We’ve had rallies, opened bargaining sessions to our allies, held grade-ins and spoken publicly at Board of Regents meetings, and marched on the Diag. So far, 375 members have attended at least one bargaining session. We’ll hold another bargaining session open to allies this Friday, April 6, at the Michigan League on Ann Arbor’s campus.

How will we decide whether we actually do the work stoppage?

A lot is happening this week. We’ll bargain at least three more times with administration (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday). We’ll also hold membership meetings in Flint (Monday), Dearborn (Tuesday) and Ann Arbor (Wednesday) to give members the latest information from the bargaining table. Members will vote at these meetings on the decision-making process we’ll use in the final hours leading up to the potential Monday-morning work stoppage.

Wouldn’t a strike be illegal?

While there’s a law in Michigan that says public employees cannot go on strike, and our current contract contains language that we won’t strike during it, we’re compelled to take action after months of administration not making movement towards our proposals. LEO and GEO have waged strikes in our past; no one was ever disciplined for taking part in these actions.

We have bipartisan support on the Board of Regents, which is a huge deal. At the regents’ meeting last week, Democrat Regent Mark Bernstein said, “I want to declare publicly and proudly solidarity with our Lecturers.” And Republican Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said that LEO had put our issues on the table “in a thoughtful and collaborative way…in a way that makes us want to work with you, that makes us sympathetic to what you’ve brought forward.” The regents are the bosses of our bosses. What they say matters. A lot.

What about the picketing? What will that look like?

Members will carry signs and engage in chants at selected building entrances, loading docks, and construction sites. A picket line must always be moving, or else we would be considered to be blocking entrances. We don’t want to prevent anyone from entering buildings, but we do want to disrupt normal operations. Each site will have a picket captain, someone in charge of making certain that the picket functions properly and members are arriving for scheduled shifts.

Why loading docks and construction sites?

This is about disruption of normal business operations for the university. We’ve spoken with many of the unions involved in construction and delivery, and they’ve agreed not to cross the picket line, even though it might be mean losing a day’s pay for their own members. This is one way that unions show solidarity.

What if I am hesitant to join in the job action because I do not want to hurt my students?

Lecturers’ very low pay and lack of respect from the administration already hurts students.  Dramatically raising our pay will dramatically improve the quality of education we can provide for students.  This is why so many students and all three campus student governments have taken strong public positions in favor of LEO’s bargaining proposals and this job action.

How can I join the walkout?

Sign up to be a picket captain or for a shift on the line! You can do so here:

A walkout means you won’t hold your classes on April 9th and 10th, at any point in the day. By not crossing our picket lines, you honor the commitment of your colleagues to an equitable contract, and the solidarity of other unions who are not crossing our picket lines.

4 Lessons for #Umich from West Virginia

The just-concluded teachers’ strike in West Virginia is historic. At a time when labor power is assumed to be on the decline — and when many worry that the upcoming Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME will gut public-sector unions throughout the country — it’s a big victory for teachers, for West Virginia public employees, and really for anyone who works for a living. In particular, it reminds us of four things that workers are all too prone to forget.

  • If you’re being badly underpaid, and the resources are there, a big raise is both reasonable and doable. The West Virginia teachers asked for a five percent raise. That sounded ambitious to some people, but in the end, the state granted it not only to them, but to all the state’s public employees, and fairly quickly too. (The state is currently refusing to tax various energy companies that can’t exist without WV’s natural resources.) Similarly, the cost of the pay increase we’re asking for at all three campuses has surprised some members of the administration’s bargaining team. But as large as it may be, it barely rises to the level of a market correction for a school with an $11 billion endowment (over twice the size of the budget for the entire state of West Virginia, by the way). As the writer Marilynne Robinson once remarked, “Plainly bookkeeping is as expressive of cultural values as any other science.” Management will always credit to hard math what is actually about politics and morals: how much do we actually value teaching? How much can we make those who pay our checks value it?
  • When workers fight for themselves in the right way, they fight for everybody. The West Virginia situation makes this pretty explicit: the teachers won a raise that will apply to every public employee. But more generally: every time a group of workers reminds a large, powerful institution who it really exists for — whether that institution is a state government that has turned into an energy-sector-lobbyist’s paradise or a “state” university that sometimes seems to forget about students, teachers, and classrooms — it’s a victory for every worker.
  • Workers have power. The West Virginia strike continued even over the objections of union leadership, who reached a tentative and seemingly toothless deal last week, which the membership promptly rejected.
  • Go big or go home. The West Virginia strike worked in part because the teachers abandoned an early plan to do a rolling strike — a handful of school districts at a time — and simply all went off the job en masse. The scale of the strike also meant that its technical illegality didn’t matter. They can’t fire everyone.

All the odds, all the calculation, all the political conventional wisdom went against these teachers. But they won. So can we.

See you at Open Bargaining on Friday. And at the membership meetings next week.

For more on this inspiring and historic strike, see here, here, here for some historical context, and here for a sense of why West Virginia is only the beginning.

West Virginia and Us: Back to the Fight

I almost began this post by writing “welcome back from Spring Break,” but of course, if you’re a teacher, you don’t really get a break. How did you spend your week away from classes? I graded, finished three pieces of writing, got notes back on two more, and moved house. Nobody becomes a teacher because they don’t enjoy work.

But as I did all that, I took every opportunity I could to read up on the incredibly inspiring teachers’ strike happening in West Virginia. Here’s a good overview. Part of what’s inspiring to me about the situation is the sheer determination of these workers. When their union reached an “agreement” with the state of West Virginia that didn’t have majority support, they went right on striking. I hope we’ll see the same level of determination from teachers in Oklahoma, one of the most exploitative states in the union, who seem to be mulling a strike of their own.

But what’s also inspiring to me about recent events in West Virginia is the way that, even as they planned to withhold their labor (the only thing a worker can withhold) from a system that exploits and abuses it, the West Virginia teachers reminded us what a teacher’s heart looks like. They knew that school cancellations would prevent many needy students from getting what was in some cases their only meal of the day. So they packed lunches for those students, by the thousands. 

That’s who teachers are.

The West Virginia teachers, and maybe now the Oklahoma teachers, are doing their part and more to raise the price of their labor, improve students’ learning conditions (which are their working conditions), and redistribute power in their states from a self-interested governing elite to the people who do the actual work of building a civilization.

Are you ready to do yours?

$1000 and Clarity

Tonight, we went to the bargaining table and received a counteroffer from the University on salary. You’ll get a detailed update from the bargaining team soon, with numbers and details. I’ll only say, speaking as one guy who was in the room, that tonight was immensely clarifying.

Our salary proposal struck the university’s bargaining team as ambitious and “imprudent.” In view of this institution’s annual endowment, what we asked for is comparable to the losses incurred by a slight correction in the stock market. Compared to the amount of revenue we generate for this university, it is hardly a large fraction. And yet they do not think we are worth it. They offered us an increase in starting salary of … around $1000.

We now know that for certain that the bargaining team does not think our labor is important to this university. We now know that we will have to demonstrate, over the course of the rest of this semester, that it is, and, if necessary, that the university cannot function for a moment without us. It’s good to have that question settled.

Tomorrow, from some other members of the communications team, you’ll be hearing about some ways that you can act this week to make that point, starting with a grade-in and the Regents’ Meeting Thursday afternoon! Be sure to block off some time that day. It’ll be well worth it.

Going to Bargaining 101: How To (Maybe) Significantly Increase Your Income With This One Weird Trick

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.

Empty Bargaining Room LEO Side for Blog

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”:

  1. 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.
  2. The team has presented all of our proposals to admin at the bargaining table. But the work isn’t done.

Bargaining Tables Labeled for Blog

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Caucus Room at Work for Blog

  1. 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



A Clean Slate

If you’re anything like me, you have a list of New Years’ resolutions long and complex enough to rival one of those Norwegian crime novels they’re always selling at Costco. (Not that I’ve ever read one. Too busy! Resolutions!)

My plans for 2018 include the doable (run three times a week), the ambitious (average an essay a month), and the insane (washboard abs). But in terms of my career security, the most important resolution I’ve made is to be in the room where my future is being decided, starting tomorrow, January 5, in Palmer Commons.

We’re bargaining every Friday in January from 9-5. (More on February-April dates as those approach.) I teach on Fridays, but I intend to be there every minute I’m not in the classroom. Everybody doesn’t need to make that level of commitment (I don’t, for example, live far away from campus, or have small children at home). But find the hour or two that you can commit and spend it with us. Bring stuff to grade, or paperwork to fill out.

Nothing you can do as a single individual will improve your job security as much as a decent contract.

“Oh, Man, I’m Busy During Bargaining Days! How Else Can I Help?”

Of course every one of you wants to come to bargaining on Friday. But life under late capitalism is super-busy, and we all have twenty scheduling conflicts a day to manage. (I’m skipping six worthy things just to write this post.) So maybe you teach all day, or you’re out of town. That’s OK! You can still help us out in a huge way this week!

How’s tomorrow look for you?

Here’s how my Thursday, December 7, looks. At 4PM, I’ll be heading to the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union, to support the Umich lecturers who will speak at the regents’ meeting. I’ll be wearing my LEO T-shirt and standing near my lecturer colleagues.

The regents a) have a lot of power; b) probably don’t know much about our situation; c) may in some cases be somewhat sympathetically disposed toward us; d) will definitely take us more seriously if we look like the kind of organization that can manage a large turnout. So pop in for a while. If you don’t have a LEO T-shirt, walk over to headquarters (339 Liberty) and get yourself one; they’re free and they look cool.

Phil Christman