As students prepared to return for fall class, Eastern Michigan University and its lecturers were working to wrap up a new contract.
The current agreement expires Aug. 31. Fall classes begin Aug. 28.
Lecturer's union officials said they hoped to have a contract in place by that first day, but either way, they'll be there to teach.
“It is frustrating. … We had really hoped for our members’ sake and our students’ sake that the contract would be wrapped up by now and we would have achieved a good, fair contract for the people that are covering more than 40% of the credit hours at EMU,” said Anke Wolbert, a lecturer who serves as vice president of the union.
The EMU Federation of Teachers represents roughly 520 part-time lecturers, 69 full-time lecturers and three library staff, according to the union.
University administrators declined to speak in detail about the issues under negotiation, but EMU requested a state-appointed mediator and included its own legal representation during many of the sessions.
“Both bargaining teams are working diligently to identify common ground,” EMU vice president of communications Walter Kraft said in an email. “Additionally, a state-appointed mediator is in place to assist in the process of obtaining a successful outcome in which all parties are satisfied.”
The new contract, in negotiation throughout the summer between the union and the university, covers everything from compensation, workload, parking and healthcare.
“So if you were hired 10 years ago…what do those salary growths look like? For faculty, you’ve increased your salary by about 40%, for full-time lecturers, you’ve increased your salary by a little under 30% and for part-time lecturers it’s a little under 20%,” said Jeremy Proulx, a full-time lecturer of philosophy at EMU and co-lead negotiator for the union.
“We’re not asking for salary equity with faculty, but we do think salary growth needs to be equitable across campus,” Proulx said.
Since their bargaining kick-off rally March 17, union leaders have met with EMU administrators more than a dozen times to discuss contract issues. The state-appointed mediator joined the proceedings in mid-June.
Bargaining priorities for the lecturer's union include livable salaries for both part- and full-time lecturers, mitigation of healthcare costs and manageable workload expectations outside of the classroom.
As of 2022-2023, the average salary for a full-time lecturer was under $50,000 for five classes per semester. Part-time lecturers earned $1,342 per credit hour, teaching anywhere from one to five classes per semester.
When it comes to healthcare, part-time lecturers do not have access to benefits through university employment. Full-time lecturers do, and are on the same plan as faculty members, paying the same premiums out of a smaller salary.
The healthcare premiums range from $423 to $1,363 for a single person, and $1,050 to $3,275 for a family of three, according to the EMU FTL Contract Extension. Union leaders said the university has proposed increasing those premiums for full-time lecturers.
Except for their hours spent in the classroom, much of the work lecturers do is not compensated, union leaders said.
“Lecturers, like all instructors in higher education, do an enormous amount of work outside of the classroom. … The university tells us that we should not do it unless we are willing to do it for free,” Proulx said.
To help combat this issue, the EMUFT is negotiating for a $25,000 professional development fund for lecturers. The fund would support lecturers in attending conferences, renewing accreditations and staying current in their field.
“The expectation is that, you know, we are offering world-class education and it is really hard to do that when you cannot do the professional development you need to stay up-to-date and the people who are going to suffer for that are the students,” Wolbert said.
EMUFT leaders said if the contract expires without a new one in place, lecturers will continue working under the current contract and continue bargaining proceedings.
The bargaining is scheduled to continue in the following days and weeks. The EMUFT has several events planned around its bargaining caucuses and a rally scheduled to kick-off student move-in day. More information about union events and the rallies can be found on the union's website.
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