As Central Michigan University students arrived for the their day of class on August 22, they were greeted by picketing members of CMU’s Faculty Association, which represents more than 600 tenured and tenure-track professors. Members of the Faculty Association had authorized their executive board to call a job action if the CMU administration continued to bargain in bad faith over a new faculty contract, and when the administration demanded that faculty accept a wage freeze and benefit cuts that had remained unchanged after months of bargaining, the executive board called for a work stoppage.
“This take it or leave it attitude is what we’ve faced all along,” said Laura Frey, president of the CMU Faculty Association. “We’ve filed unfair labor practices against the university citing their refusal to bargain in good faith. This is why the faculty is not where it wants to be–with their students.”
The administration is insisting that faculty members make benefit concessions and forego a raise for the first year of a three-year contract. Frey told Michigan Radio, a part of the NPR digital network, that faculty members were willing to forego a raise if the administration agreed not raise student tuition, which according to Frey, has increased 200 percent over the last ten years. But the administration raised tuition anyway.
CMU administration said that it is demanding cuts to benefits and a wage freeze because the state has cut funding to the university. But “CMU is financially flourishing,” Frey said. “CMU last year put away an additional $30 million in unrestricted surplus assets for a total of at least $228 million in unrestricted surplus assets, those surplus assets could be used any way (the university) wants.”
While CMU is demanding concessions and a pay freeze of its faculty, it has been more generous with its top administrators. According to Bryan Gibson, a professor in the Philosophy Department and Faculty Association member, “Salaries of upper administrators have exploded in the past 10 years. In 2000, the CMU president earned $200,000. In 2010, George Ross (current CMU president) earned $350,000, a 75 percent increase (and that doesn’t include the $50,000 bonus he received!). The Provost’s salary is up 63 percent in those 10 years.”
The administration declared the work stoppage illegal and asked a circuit judge to order faculty members back to work. The judged issued a temporary restraining order requiring faculty members to return to work, which they did on Tuesday. A show cause hearing on the merits of the administration’s request is scheduled to take place on Friday.
Frey said that the work stoppage is legal because it is a job action opposing unfair labor practices. Michigan law prohibits public employees from striking over economic issues such as wages and benefits but not over unfair labor practices.
Most likely the dispute will be settled by a fact finder, who has been empowered by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, to hear both sides of the dispute and issue recommendations based on the information he gathers. Both sides will meet with the fact finder on September 7, 9, and 13.
“In the past, we have always been able to reach a settlement, but it seems that this new administration isn’t looking to work with faculty to settle a contract,” Frey said.