Eastern Michigan University faculty union weighing strike against school after breakdown in negotiations

Faculty at Eastern Michigan University are weighing a potential strike against the school after the union contract with the college expired last week.

Members of the EMU-American Association of University Professors plans to convene Tuesday to decide on whether to authorize a strike after the union said its efforts to find a deal with the school was met with delays, canceled meetings, and lengthy response times to proposals.

"Our team can state with absolute certainty that we have done everything in our power to avert a strike. We have worked around the clock to try to reach an agreement," the EMU-AAUP negotiating team said this weekend. "But it is simply impossible to come to an agreement with an Administration that refuses to negotiate in good faith."

The school administration called the breakdown of negotiations "unfortunate" and said a strike would harm students by disrupting classes just a week into the semester. Classes are expected to resume after Labor Day this week.

Matt Kirkpatrick is an associate professor of English at EMU and the lead negotiator working with the university administration.

"I’ll tell you that our membership overwhelmingly voted to authorize a negotiating team to use the threat of a strike at the table; 97 percent of the people who were at the meeting, we had a pretty good turnout for that," he said.." I’m not sure where that will go. This is an awfully big step to take."

The EMU-AAUP is made up of more than 500 professors and faculty.

The last contract expired August 31st. The union says it wanted to keep negotiating for the benefit of the school and students, but have not gotten anywhere. The sticking points - are pay and healthcare. 

"Cost of living is a huge thing right?" Kirkpatrick said. "What’s been offered to us doesn’t address cost of living, and it doesn’t really adequately address the increases to our health care premiums, and also out-of-pocket expenses due to plan changes."

EMU also said it had attempted to break an impasse with the union over health care costs with a salary increase to cover increased premiums. 

"We understand the union’s frustration with being asked to share more of the increasing costs of providing healthcare to employees and families," it said in a statement. "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."

But the union argues the health care plan "is more costly and onerous than the insurance plans agreed to and currently in effect for other campus bargaining units."

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"EMU administrators are now calling for a state-appointed fact finder," said Kirkpatrick. "That won’t help much if they keep basing their proposals and public statements on easily debunked fantasies."

The University Administration issued a statement Saturday saying: "The union’s call today for a possible strike action hurts our students and impinges significantly upon their experience."

It goes on to say such a strike would disrupt education and be illegal under state law.

The Administration says it gets the union’s frustration with being asked to take on more of the healthcare cost, but says there are very few employers and employees in the country that have not had to make similar sacrifices. 

A mediator appointed by the state will be at the next negotiation on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 10 a.m.