Eastern Michigan University's faculty union voted to strike as contract talks reached a stalemate, the union announced Tuesday night. The strike, which was authorized by 91% of faculty members in attendance, will begin Wednesday.
"Our message to EMU students, parents and alumni is simple: EMU faculty are standing up for you and for quality education,” said Matt Kirkpatrick, associate professor of English language and literature at EMU and chair of the EMU-AAUP negotiating team, in a statement. “But the EMU Administration has let you down, raising their own salaries while trying to reduce our compensation, and repeatedly failing to bargain in good faith.”
School administrators said students should "report to classes as scheduled and wait at least 15 minutes to determine whether their instructor will be teaching,” said school spokesman Walter Kraft. “Students may also contact their instructors in advance to determine whether classes will be taking place.”
The school said the faculty were walking out on students.
“It is unfortunate that rather than continue to follow the mediator’s path, with active negotiations still underway, the faculty union is asking its members to walk out and disrupt students’ education just seven days into the semester," Kraft said in a news release late Tuesday night. “In addition to mediation, the University has filed for State-appointed independent fact finding in a further effort to reach a solution with the union. Rather than allow these processes to proceed without impacting students, the faculty union has moved to the extreme step of calling for a strike.
“We understand the union’s frustration with being asked to share more of the increasing costs of providing health care to employees and families. But there are very few employers and employees in the United States, or among the other bargaining units at this University, that have not had to make similar adjustments to health care costs.”
The union has more than 500 members. It has been without a contract since Aug. 31. It agreed to continue to work while negotiations were ongoing, but union leaders said there has not been enough progress.
"It’s truly unfortunate that the EMU Administration’s failure at the bargaining table will cause delay and disruption for our students,” said Mohamed El-Sayed, professor of engineering at EMU and president of EMU-AAUP, in a statement. “We will not be in our classrooms tomorrow, but our negotiating team will be at the bargaining table. We’re looking for solutions that support our students and set the stage for quality education at EMU for the long term.”
The biggest differences between the two sides are in salary and health care, with the administration proposing an increase in health care costs for faculty members. The union has proposed smaller increases for faculty than the administration.
"We understand the union’s frustration with being asked to share more of the increasing costs of providing health care to employees and families," Kraft said in his news release before the strike vote. "But there are very few employers and employees in the United States, or among the other bargaining units at this university, that have not had to make similar adjustments to health care costs.”
The union has a different view.
“Our goal remains a fair settlement but unfortunately the EMU Administration is throwing every possible obstacle in the way of a new labor agreement,” said Kirkpatrick in a statement Sunday announcing the strike vote. "Here’s a fact: Less is not more. EMU can’t claim to be offering us a salary ‘increase’ when their proposal for a massive increase in health care costs will result in a pay decrease for many EMU-AAUP members. If administrators – who have been raising their own salaries – think we deserve a pay cut, they should at least be honest about it.”
Eastern's faculty has a history of strikes. Professors walked picket lines in 2000, 2004 and 2006. The 2006 strike lasted for two weeks before the sides came to an agreement. In 2010, faculty came within hours of a strike vote before coming to an agreement on a new contract.
Other Michigan universities have seen strikes as well. In 2011, faculty at Central Michigan University were on strike for a day before a judge ordered them back to classrooms.
In 2009, Oakland University faculty were on strike for a week before coming to an agreement.