Negotiations Kickoff Event April 17

Thursday, April 17, 8:30-10 a.m.
Montague House (814 Oakland Drive)

Join us for coffee, donuts, and good company and send the team off in style.
We’ll walk the team across the street to Walwood Hall at 9:15.

On Thursday, April 17, the Board-appointed faculty at Western Michigan University will be the first permanent faculty at a 4-year institution in Michigan to negotiate a new contract under the so-called “right to work” laws.

We have an outstanding team, and they are incredibly well prepared, but our leverage is in our numbers. We need a big turnout on Thursday to support the team and make it clear that we are not playing around when it comes to our university and our professional lives. Be there. Invite colleagues. Do it. This is your future we’re talking about.

Bargaining-unit members, their families, faculty retirees, WMU students and alumni, and WMU-AAUP allies are invited.

team_picClick on the event flier below to enlarge.

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WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Remarks by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
Meeting of the Board of Trustees

April 9, 2014

In my remarks to the board last June, I referenced a report by the national AAUP Committee on College and University Governance that identifies a significant decrease nationwide in communication between university faculties and their governing boards. As I noted at that time, the report suggests that the move toward less frequent and more strictly mediated communication coincides both with an increasing corporatization of higher education and a decrease in shared governance, including when it comes to the critical decisions that have the potential to radically shift the priorities or even change the academic identity of the university. As examples in that June address, I talked about faculty concerns about the process by which gender inequity was (ostensibly) being addressed and their many questions about the academic program review.

I maintained at that time – and I still believe – that we can all agree that it is in the best interests of WMU and all of its stakeholders for us – the Board and the faculty – to communicate directly and to work collaboratively.

And so in that spirit of open communication, collaboration and mutual respect, today I bring to your attention the topic of a proposed new “wellness program” for WMU faculty and staff.

The packets I’ve brought for you contain a memo from the Human Resources office dated March 10, 2014, titled “Implementation of WMU Wellness Program,” which projected an April 2014 announcement of the program – presumably that means it was be announced to faculty and staff this month, although that does not seem to have happened yet – and a May 2014 implementation of the program. Bullet points on the memo refer to a financial “incentive” of $20 per month toward health insurance “co-shares” (not a term that is used in our current health plan, so we don’t know what it means. Premiums, copays, other costs?). Anyway, these incentives would be earned by individual faculty and staff colleagues in exchange for completing a “health-risk assessment” and a “complete health screening,” along with a few other requirements.

Upon receipt of that March 10 memo, I noted to HR that their proposed May 1 implementation date is problematic because our contract runs until September, and nothing resembling this proposed program is in it. And on March 17, the WMU-AAUP submitted a request to bargain regarding the proposed wellness program and a request for more information about the program.

On March 28, our request was denied by the administration, which has taken the position that the proposed program is not subject to bargaining. However, according to the National Labor Relations Act, health and welfare plans are considered a mandatory subject of bargaining. But I am going to leave aside for now the legal aspects of this question.

The more immediate issue I want to share with the Board has to do with the unnecessary and easily avoidable fostering of feelings of suspicion and ill-will among faculty and staff that results from a lack of honest, direct communication from the administration. We have, unfortunately, seen this kind of thing before, and on behalf of the faculty, I have to continue to question the wisdom of doing things this way. We believe that a culture of open discussion and collaboration are much healthier for the institution — those are foundational academic values — but, sadly, secrecy, non-transparency, and questionable claims that communication has been clear all along seem to keep winning the day. And especially if this wellness plan is going to be such a wonderful benefit to the university community, why can’t we know the specifics?

In their March 28 letter, the administration claims that they have “attempted to keep the WMU-AAUP well informed about changes/enhancements to the wellness program,” but that if we feel that they have “failed in this regard,” then they would be happy to meet with us to discuss it (but apparently not at the bargaining table).

You might think that the fact that we had to request specific information in the first place about the proposed new wellness program – a request they have denied – would have made it clear that in our view they have indeed “failed in this regard.” It would be interesting to see what a poll of the faculty and staff would reveal if they were asked today how much they know about the program and where they got their information (if any). It seems ironic that the administration would now simultaneously claim that they have been completely forthcoming while also insisting that we have no right to the information.

I will add here that our WMU-AAUP appointees were somehow dropped from the email list for the university-wide wellness committee in 2013 – and therefore we were not alerted to meetings of the committee nor apprised of its developments – and that as a result we were excluded from participation in this project for many months, in violation of Article 4. The situation was not corrected until we found out last fall that the wellness committee had continued to meet all last summer without informing us and insisted that the situation be rectified. Perhaps needless to add, many decisions had been made during the period of our exclusion, and upon their return to the committee, our appointees and their contributions were met with considerable resistance.

Sadly, the lack of information about the wellness program and the resistance with which our requests for information have been met seems to be only the most recent example of a disturbing and increasing trend on this campus, in which administrators communicate poorly (or not at all) with faculty and staff about important issues, and then when things don’t go as they’d hoped, they insist the faculty was part of the process all along. I point to the gender equity debacle last year and the academic program review now underway as exhibits A and B.

Contrary to the claims in the administration’s March 28 letter, the proposed new wellness program is not merely a set of “changes/enhancements” to an existing program. There’s a big difference between things like lunchtime yoga classes for faculty and staff and what is being proposed now: “health risk screenings” and “health assessments” that include biometric testing – the collection of bodily fluids – and intrusive questions into the most personal and private details of our lives.

Some of you may be familiar with what happened at Penn State when they tried to impose a program with some of the same features as what is now being considered here. Faculty and staff were horrified and outraged at what they saw as an egregious invasion of privacy by their employer and the financial costs they were to be assessed if they refused to participate. They were asked about whether they had financial problems, substance abuse issues, and whether they planned to become pregnant in the near future. Leaving aside for the moment whether wellness programs actually deliver the return on investment that their vendors promise in terms of health care costs or the improvements in employee health outcomes – and some important recent studies suggest that both can be practically negligible – the intrusive nature of existing programs at other institutions about which we have been gathering information does not suggest that this project is going to go over well at WMU.

As we look to begin our contract negotiations one week from tomorrow, we hope we can expect a good-faith collaboration that cooperates with the best interests of the university and all its constituencies in mind. The denial of a request to bargain on a highly charged topic that I can guarantee you will galvanize every employee group on this campus – once they actually find out about it, that is – is not an encouraging sign. Neither is the withholding of information in response to reasonable and legitimate requests. And so I look to all of you, members of the Board, in the hope that you will help to direct the leadership to work with the faculty toward a more open, collaborative conversation on the wellness program issue and all other matters of importance to our university.

Faculty reading of ‘Strike Parade’ on March 31 at 7 p.m.

StrikeParade_fly

Western Michigan University faculty members from 13 departments across eight colleges will participate in a special faculty reading of “Strike Parade,” a new play by WMU professor Dr. Steve Feffer commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Miners’ Strike. The event is sponsored by the Western Michigan University chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

THIS EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
Seating will be limited, so please plan accordingly.

FEATURING AN ALL-STAR CAST OF FACULTY READERS:

  • Betsy Aller, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Karen Blaisure, Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Jennifer Brown, Bronson School of Nursing
  • Sharon Carlson, University Libraries
  • David Curwen, Dance
  • Vincent Desroches, World Languages and Literatures
  • Dan Fleming, Chemical and Paper Engineering
  • Brian Horvitz, Educational Leadership, Research & Technology
  • Dominic Nicolai, College of Aviation – Flight Program
  • Mary Peterson, Speech Pathology and Audiology
  • Cynthia Running-Johnson, World Languages and Literatures
  • Nancy Schullery, Business Information Systems (Emerita)
  • Ola Smith, Accountancy
  • Gwen Athene Tarbox, English

The Western Michigan University chapter of the American Association of University Professors, representing WMU’s 879 board-appointed faculty members, is an active community of teachers, scholars, researchers, and creative artists committed to student success, academic excellence, shared governance, and the preservation of higher education as a public good.

We are pleased to present this reading in our continuing effort to help educate the campus community and the public about Michigan’s labor history, the importance of workers’ rights, the critical role of the arts and humanities in a civilized culture, and the value of collective action to ensure a thriving democratic society.

Casting call for faculty reading of new play: “Strike Parade”

Casting call:

Special Faculty Reading of “Strike Parade”
a new play by Steve Feffer

Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m.
President’s Dining Room, Bernhard Center

On Monday, March 31, the WMU-AAUP will proudly present a special faculty reading of “Strike Parade,” a new play by our own Dr. Steve Feffer, accomplished playwright and WMU Associate Professor of English, commemorating the 1913-14 Michigan Copper Miners’ Strike.

As part of our 2014 contract campaign, Steve has graciously offered us the opportunity to do a special faculty reading of “Strike Parade” here on our own campus.

But you can’t have a “special faculty reading” without some special faculty readers! In that spirit, we invite you, dear WMU faculty members, to join the cast as a Special Faculty Reader.

Here’s the skinny:

  • We need 8-12 colleagues of any age or gender to participate in the reading.
  • The script may include some opportunities for readers to sing as part of a group (in the form of awesome labor songs), although please note that if singing is not your thing, that is not a dealbreaker.
  • The time commitment will include one or (at most) two meetings with the rest of the cast prior to the actual public reading, which is scheduled for Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m. (The meeting(s) will probably also be on Monday evening(s), in order to keep things simple.)
  • If you’d like to volunteer to be a reader, contact us at staff@wmuaaup.net to let us know you’re in!
  • If you’d rather not read but would still like to be involved, we’d love to have your help hosting the event or behind the scenes (e.g., helping with logistics, refreshments, publicity, etc.). Email us to let us know if that sounds more like your style.

And if you know of some colleagues you think might enjoy this opportunity, by all means encourage them (or feel free to nominate them and leave the persuasion to us!).

Even if you’d prefer not to read, if you are available on Monday, March 31, please plan to attend what will surely be an unforgettable performance.

Many thanks to those who have already agreed to participate. And big, big thanks to WMU’s favorite rising young playwright (and WMU-AAUP Association Council representative for the Department of English) Dr. Steve Feffer for giving us the opportunity to learn about a fascinating episode in Michigan’s labor history and to have what is sure to be a great time in the process.

 

Howard Bunsis’s slides on university finances available HERE

Thanks to everyone who attended yesterday’s presentation on university finances and institutional values at WMU by Dr. Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Caucus. We had a great turnout, and as always, Howard really delivered. His presentation did much to illuminate what the university’s funding decisions suggest about its values and priorities.

If you were not able to attend, we hope you’ll have a chance to talk with colleagues who were there and especially to explore the materials in his slide presentation, which are being made available to all faculty (see below).

Howard Bunsis’s Feb. 13 slide presentation is linked here. (Large file and pdf alert.)

Your WMU-AAUP leadership is looking forward to continuing discussions with all of you about institutional values and priorities.

Presentation: “WMU: Strong Financially, Weak on Priorities,” Thursday, February 13, at 3 p.m.

Featured speaker: Dr. Howard Bunsis
Professor of Accounting, Eastern Michigan University
Chair of the National AAUP Collective Bargaining Caucus

howard

“WMU: Strong Financially, Weak on Priorities”
A presentation on university finances

Thursday, February 13, 2014, at 3 p.m.
WMU Center for the Humanities (2500 Knauss Hall)

If you’ve been wondering about some of the university’s recent funding decisions and what they might be saying about institutional priorities, please join us this Thursday at 3 p.m. at the WMU Center for the Humanities (2500 Knauss Hall) for a discussion of finances, values, and priorities at WMU.

Howard has visited WMU several times in recent years to help illuminate for us the often opaque world of university finances in presentations to the faculty and the university community. Those of you who have been in the audiences for these talks know that he is a dynamic, meticulously prepared, and highly knowledgeable speaker. If you are available on Thursday afternoon, we hope to see you for what will surely be an enlightening discussion.

This event is free and open to the public.

WMU-AAUP Union Pioneers Panel – Thursday, Feb. 6

Colleagues, don’t miss this historic event!

The WMU-AAUP Union Pioneers Panel
Thursday, February 6, at 4 p.m.

Zhang Legacy Collections Center
1650 Oakland Drive

Featured speakers Galen Alessi, Lyn Bartley, Mary Cain, Ed Pawlak, and Bob Ricci will share memories and stories about negotiations past and other labor issues at WMU over the years for this first event in our Spring 2014 contract campaign line-up.

This event is free and open to the public.

Attendees who wish to tour the Zhang Center are invited to arrive at 3:30.

About the featured speakers:

Galen Alessi: Negotiation team member (1996), grievance officer (1994-97), contract administrator (1997-98), and long-serving Association Council representative.

Lynwood Bartley: Three-term Chapter president (1977, 1993-96) and nine-time negotiation team member (1975, ‘76, ‘78, ‘84, ‘87, ‘90, ‘93, ‘96, and ’08).

Mary Cain: Two-term Chapter president (1983-86), long-serving Executive Committee member, and founder of the Western Association of Retired Faculty.

Edward Pawlak: Collective bargaining planning coordinator (1995-96), information officer (1996), Executive Committee member and Chapter secretary (1993-94).

Robert Ricci: Three-time negotiation team member (1996, 1999, and 2002), two-time chief negotiator (1999 and 2002), and Chapter vice president (1993).