Letter to the Faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
August 19, 2014
Negotiation Update and Invitation to Demonstration for Solidarity
THURSDAY, AUGUST 28, 12 NOON
SEIBERT ADMINISTRATION BUILDING
As all good things must come to an end, the days are getting shorter and the end of the summer approaches. Similarly, the spirit of collegiality that we have strived for at the bargaining table since the beginning of our negotiations is becoming strained. After lengthy delays in providing us with the information we requested beginning in January about employee healthcare at WMU (some of which still has yet to be provided), the administration finally brought to the table last week their first specific proposal on the topic of faculty and retiree health insurance benefits. Despite the growing tension, our WMU-AAUP negotiation team continues to approach each bargaining session with the utmost professionalism and with the same thoughtful and meticulous preparation they have demonstrated throughout the negotiation process thus far.
The healthcare proposal that the administration brought to our team last week would shift a much greater share of the costs of our health insurance onto us and away from the employer, escalating a trend that has been underway for a number of years at WMU. As we reported in the July 1 negotiation update, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours.
Additionally, the administration proposed last week to cut and eventually eliminate retiree health benefits for the overwhelming majority of current faculty and not to offer it at all to new faculty hires beginning in 2015. Today, they reversed their position on current faculty and agreed to continue to provide existing retiree health benefits, as outlined in Article 33, to all current faculty but are still proposing not to offer it to new hires beginning next year. (For information about these retirement health benefits, please see the 2011-14 Agreement, linked here, and scroll to Article 33.)
Our team has made clear that they cannot in good conscience support what is being proposed. Last Friday, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, comprising the chapter officers and your elected faculty representatives from each college, in consultation with our team, voted unanimously to reject the proposal.
As we have noted throughout this process, the members of our team, individually and collectively, are committed to conducting themselves according to the highest standards of professionalism. And from day one they have delivered, basing their proposals on research-based inquiry and evidence-based argumentation, as is appropriate in proceedings at an institution of higher learning. They have not wavered from their commitment to honoring the values that function as our guiding principles as faculty members: free inquiry, academic excellence, shared governance, collaboration, and transparency. And they have made it clear that they have no intention of wavering now or at any time in the future.
Our team continues to insist on mutually respectful proceedings, and this includes when it comes to the nature of the proposals that the two sides bring forward for consideration at the table. The faculty must be treated as the respected members of the university community that we know we are. The university must hold up its end of the bargain by honoring the commitments it has made to all of us, just as we honor our commitments to the institution and to its many stakeholders, often in ways that go far beyond what we are paid or contracted to do and often at significant personal cost. We serve this university because we believe deeply in its mission and in our charge to carry out that mission. We give of ourselves in ways that cannot be quantified or counted but that must never be taken for granted nor cynically exploited. Unfortunately, too often, they are. We are.
Because of the insistence of our WMU-AAUP team on fair and respectful treatment of the faculty, it is possible that negotiations may continue into September before we come to agreement on the remaining contract articles, which include healthcare, compensation, and workload.
Let me be clear about this: A delayed resolution is not what our team wants. (That they also did not want a delayed start to the bargaining and informed the administration in February that they were ready to begin on March 28 would be immaterial, except that the administration’s team would now like to try to hold us responsible for delays in progress at the table. If we would just agree to everything they want, they seem to suggest, we could have finished up months ago.) Like all of us, Cynthia, Bilinda, Tom, and Onaiwu have classes to prepare for, new students to meet, and all the demands of their work as faculty members awaiting their return from the table. But they will not settle for a new contract that chips away at our professional autonomy, places at risk the academic mission of the institution, or imposes a level of compensation that disregards or devalues our role in the success of this university.
But our team needs your help if they are to achieve the goals that we as the faculty have set out for them, and the time has come for us to deliver on their behalf and to begin the process of making sure our voices are heard loudly and clearly.
I am not speaking metaphorically here: I am asking you to join us at noon on Thursday, August 28, for a demonstration of solidarity in front of the Seibert administration building.
All board-appointed faculty colleagues are strongly urged to attend, as are family members, retirees, and colleagues from other WMU employee groups who wish to show their solidarity. We also welcome students, alumni, and community members who value the work we do on behalf of Western Michigan University and on behalf of this community.
After today, to accommodate the vacation plans of a key member of the administration’s team, the two teams will not meet again until August 28. I urge you to join me on that date to make the case for honoring commitments, for treating all members of the university community with dignity and respect, and for compensating us fairly for the work we do here.
When I began work here 10 years ago this month, I could not have been more proud to be a member of the board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University and to be a member of the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Like many of you, my family and I had to make hard choices and real sacrifices so that we could come here. My husband was generous: He gave up his secure, fulfilling, and good-paying job in Atlanta, one that offered promising opportunities for advancement, so that I could accept my first-choice job offer. He took a significant cut in pay in order to do so. He has since started his own business here in Kalamazoo, and among his employees today is a wonderful WMU alumnus who started when he was an undergraduate student working part time, stayed on through his graduate program, and now works full time with the company.
One of the best things about the job of chapter president is the opportunity to meet and get to know colleagues all over campus with whom I might not otherwise have crossed paths. Having spoken with many of you over the past year, I know that a lot of you have stories like mine, or variations on the theme. Our families – yours, mine, all of ours – have given much to this community and to WMU, most of it completely unknown, unacknowledged, and unsung outside our own homes. For our term-appointed colleagues, the sacrifices are just as great, yet the rewards are fewer. But I know I speak for many of our colleagues when I say that we are proud to serve and to give of ourselves in this way.
But that does not mean we will stand by and allow ourselves to be treated disrespectfully or to be pressured into making bad decisions out of fear. On the contrary, it is all the more reason why we will not and why our team will not give in to unreasonable and insulting demands. We will never stop being respectful or professional. That is who we are. As the board-appointed faculty of this university, we understand the high standards we must uphold and model for our students and for the community, and I am proud to serve and to stand with all of you.
But we will absolutely not stand for it if our respect for this institution is not reciprocated, or if there is any chance that commitments made to us will not be honored.
I look forward to seeing you all on August 28.