Some Unsung Heroes of the Negotiations

Now that the bargaining is over (pending ratification of the tentative agreement reached last night), it is time to extend thanks to everyone who has supported our WMU-AAUP negotiation team. As you know, Cynthia, Bilinda, Onaiwu, and Tom have spent the past four months working tirelessly and fighting hard. It is hard to imagine that anyone could have done a better job. Certainly no one could have been better prepared, more courageous, or more determined than they have been from day one through last night at midnight when the tentative agreement was reached. There was never a moment of backing down, slacking off, or looking for the path of least resistance. Their work on our behalf, not to mention the professionalism, poise, and integrity they maintained as they completed this difficult and exhausting work, is inspiring and humbling.

It has been a long and often grueling few months, but the many friends and colleagues who have stepped up to offer their support along the way have made for many bright spots during an otherwise challenging time.

As we have said from the beginning, the project of negotiations is an extensive collaboration, and many people deserve recognition and thanks for their part in this collaborative project. Of course, as we all know, when there are so many people to thank, there is always the risk of inadvertently missing someone who deserves recognition. That will surely happen this time, too. So, in addition to offering apologies in advance for those cases, the Unsung Heroes of the Negotiations project will also include updates in the coming days, with the goal of trying eventually to honor everyone for their part to the extent possible. We have compiled a lengthy list of people to thank, including descriptions of individual roles where feasible. We will be rolling these out a few at a time, so if you helped out but don’t see your name, it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten you or your contribution. (If you suspect we might have, though, please let us know.)

And now, without further ado, and in no particular order, here begins the list of

Unsung Heroes of the 2014 Negotiations

Dr. Jerry Kreuze and Dr. Ola Smith, Professors of Accountancy, two incredibly brainy, astute, and generous colleagues who made themselves available throughout the negotiations to help analyze financial data and develop creative solutions to thorny accounting problems. What tremendous resources these two are, along with our other colleagues in accountancy with whom Jerry and Ola consulted, and who weighed in on various ideas that were being floated, and how valuable they are to this university and its students.

Dr. Jim Eckert, Associate Professor of Marketing, who in addition to the many extra hours he already gives voluntarily to his students in order to provide extra training to them in sales and negotiation skills (which clearly pays off hugely for the students), he also kindly volunteered his time to work with us. Not only did Jim give us excellent advice about negotiation strategies as well as practical tools that have applications that go way beyond the bargaining table, but he did so with infectious energy and an upbeat, positive attitude. His students are very, very lucky to have him, and so is WMU.

Dr. Bob Bensley, Professor of Community Health Education, worked closely with the team beginning last spring on how we might address inequities that result when faculty working on grant-funded research come up against the contractual limits to compensation. The limits have caused widespread frustration among faculty working on grants and contracts across the university, but thanks in large part to Bob’s efforts, the team has now successfully negotiated higher limits for the 2014-17 contract.

Dr. Lynwood Bartley, retired professor, past WMU-AAUP president, and seasoned negotiator, participated in the WMU-AAUP Union Pioneers Panel in February 2014 and offered support and encouragement as well as concrete tactical advice to the team and the chapter leadership over the entire course of the negotiations. Lyn has generously given many, many hours of his time to the contract campaign and to advising the chapter leadership and Executive Committee. His wise counsel has been invaluable and his never-give-up attitude has inspired generations of faculty and chapter leaders, including this one. While his status as WMU-AAUP legend has long been secure, it was reaffirmed once again this year.

Dr. Joetta Carr, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and 2008 WMU-AAUP chief negotiator, advised the team and the chapter leadership throughout the process. Her phenomenal smarts, experience negotiating an excellent contract in 2008, and clear recall of events at the table that time around were major assets to our efforts this year. Additionally, her low tolerance for administrative shenanigans helped us to calibrate our own radars, and she could not have been more generous with her time in the spring and all summer long.

Dr. Robert Ricci, retired faculty and veteran WMU-AAUP negotiator, met with team and provided helpful advice and wise counsel from early on in the process. In addition to participating in the WMU-AAUP Union Pioneers Panel, Bob also brought abundance of wisdom, institutional memory, and valuable insights gained from his extensive (and successful) experience in past negotiations, including several stints as chief negotiator.

Dr. Galen Alessi, Professor of Psychology, WMU-AAUP Association Council representative, and veteran negotiator, kindly shared knowledge gained over his many years of experience working with the chapter on behalf of the faculty, both as a participant in the Union Pioneers Panel and as a consultant to the team. Galen also analyzes finance issues in higher education in general and those here at WMU in particular, and the reports he put together for us helped to make sense of the big picture as well as to see how the pieces fit together. They also gave us a lot of ammunition for battles at the table. He is also a walking archive of institutional memory and has long given generously of his time and been a major resource for the chapter and its membership.

Dr. Mary Cain, retired faculty member and past WMU-AAUP chapter president, participated in the Union Pioneers Panel, where she shared her extensive knowledge of labor issues in higher education. Mary brought with her a wealth of practical advice about strategies at the table as well as ways to organize an effective campaign outside the bargaining room.

Dr. Edward Pawlak, retired faculty member and past WMU-AAUP officer, is another one of our Union Pioneers. Smart, funny, and a treasure trove of memories of past negotiations and campaigns, Ed was one of the first volunteers to meet with our team last winter. He shared many inspirational stories (and a few that were infuriating) about negotiations past, along with a ton of practical advice.

Everyone from Western Association of Retired Faculty who worked so hard on behalf of the current faculty and never failed to offer (and deliver) their enthusiastic support. Under the leadership of WARF Steering Committee President Barbara Havira, our retired faculty colleagues proclaimed publicly and unequivocally their support for the faculty in a letter that more than 100 retired colleagues signed. They also never failed to show up in large numbers every single time we needed them, and throughout the negotiations they modeled the kind of intelligence, kindness, and generosity of spirit that should remind all of us how important it is for us to honor the debt of gratitude we owe these courageous colleagues for the many rights and benefits we enjoy (and sometimes take for granted) today. Without these colleagues and the risks they took over the years to fight for everything we have now, there would be no 11 percent retirement contributions from the employer, no summer preference, and no guarantee of due process rights for faculty. This is a debt we can never repay, although perhaps they would be satisfied if we continue to fight on and pay it forward for our junior colleagues and for WMU faculty members of the future. It is the very least we can do for them after all they have done for us over the past 40 years.

Mr. Randy Borden, teacher of English at Portage Central High School, served as a key consultant to our negotiation team. With a wealth of K-12 union negotiation experience, encyclopedic knowledge of labor law, and an enviable professional network of people in the know, Randy has been a godsend. Whip-smart, fast on his feet, and compassionate to the core, he almost always has the answers we need. And on the rare occasion that he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he always knows someone who does. He’s a formidable negotiator who has taught us more than we could ever possibly quantify (lucky students at Portage Central who get to have him as a teacher!), and we can’t thank him enough for giving up his entire summer in order to fight alongside us every step of the way. That is one negotiator we would never want to have to see across the table from us.

Mr. Mike Fayette, chapter attorney and veteran of numerous contract negotiations on behalf of the WMU-AAUP and other labor unions, once again brought to our side of the table his smarts, experience, and flexibility. He understands the big picture but also sees immediately how all the pieces fit, and he helps us to consider all the angles before committing to anything. Mike is tough as nails when we need him to be, level-headed and easygoing when that is what’s called for, and he’s been there for the faculty for longer than most of us  (i.e., negotiation team members and chapter leadership) have been at WMU. Many of the gains that WMU-AAUP faculty have enjoyed over the years were won with his help, which is to say that the history of our chapter could not be written without him and that we are very lucky to have him on our side.

The WMU-AAUP Executive Committee is the body of chapter officers and elected representatives from each college whose role it is to advise the leadership and the team. This collection of saints (saints, I tell you!) never once complained despite the ridiculous demands we put on them this summer and the insane number of hours of uncompensated labor they were obliged to put in on behalf of our team, the chapter leadership, and most of all, the faculty.

These generous, engaged, and focused individuals work their butts off all year round to represent the faculty in their colleges and to keep communication between the faculty and the chapter leadership flowing in both directions. The Exec Committee also functions, as needed, as sounding board, support system, intervention team, campaign committee, cheerleading squad, and crisis management team. Dissent is common at Exec Committee meetings, but it is always well informed and respectful, and the committee members are highly skilled at working with and through dissent to reach consensus. We are truly fortunate to have these wise and gracious people serving on our behalf.

How fortunate we are to have them has perhaps never been more apparent than when we started calling them at 11:20 p.m. on the night of September 5. With the contract set to expire just after midnight, we had to ask them to come in to vote on a tentative agreement. Violent storms had blown through earlier in the evening and power was out in tens of thousands of homes in Kalamazoo County, including those of many of our Exec members themselves. With landlines out for a lot of folks as well and cell phones turned off to conserve energy in homes without power, it was a miracle that we were able not only to get a quorum but to get one by 11:45.

But we did.

Every single Exec member we were able to reach dropped what they were doing to come over to Walwood immediately, even the ones who had been asleep in bed when we called (sorry, Jim!). They braved downed trees and powerlines so that we could discuss the final proposals (quickly but thoughtfully) and vote on them before the 2011-14 contract expired at 12:01.

Because of the effects of the storm, we couldn’t get through to all our Exec reps hat night, but the ones we could not reach have been working just as hard all summer without a peep of complaint. You might want to buy your rep a drink next time you see him or her.

Your WMU-AAUP Executive Committee:

  • Bill Warren (History), Chapter Vice President
  • Brian Tripp (Biological Sciences), College of Arts and Sciences (Sciences Division) and Chapter Secretary
  • Dominic Nicolai (Flight Program), College of Aviation and Chapter Treasurer
  • Marilyn Kritzman (Communication), College of Arts and Sciences (Humanities Division) and Contract Administrator
  • John Saillant (English), Grievance Officer
  • Bilinda Straight (Anthropology), College of Arts and Sciences (Social Sciences Division) and 2014 negotiation team member
  • Jim Muchmore (TLES), College of Education and Human Development
  • Dan Fleming (Chemical and Paper Engineering), College of Engineering and Applied Sciences
  • Ed Harkness (Art), College of Fine Arts (David Curwen, Dance, substitute)
  • Jo Wiley (Business Information Systems), Haworth College of Business
  • Mary Peterson (Speech Pathology and Audiology), College of Health and Human Services
  • Sharon Carlson, University Libraries (Kate Langan and Michael McDonnell, substitutes)
  • Eva Copija, CELCIS (Tudy Boldin, substitute)
  • Matthew Mingus (Public Policy and Administration), Immediate Past President
  • Cynthia Klekar (English), 2014 Chief Negotiator and Certified Bad-ass

We also want to thank:

The 150 faculty members who showed up to rally at the Seibert administration building on August 28, the week before fall classes even started.

The 130 faculty members who showed up to rally at Walwood on Labor Day.

The more than 300 colleagues who showed up to the chapter meeting on September 5, including those who spoke out so wisely and passionately about what we do for WMU and why that work matters.

The more than 200 who stuck around after the chapter meeting for the rally at Bronco Bash, where thousands of students were made aware of some of the key issues our campus is facing and got a chance to see their professors in a new light and to get to know us better in the process. Those 200-plus then marched determinedly to the third floor of Seibert and remained focused and professional (if loud), even when the campus police were called to remove us and threatened some of us with arrest.

Not only did these rallies absolutely turn the tide in our favor, but the experiences have given us great memories to enjoy and meaningful stories to share for many years to come.

We are also grateful to:

The many faculty colleagues who met with us, with their departments or individually, who talked with us and wrote to us to offer feedback, encouragement, smart questions, unique perspectives, personal stories, valuable insights, constructive criticism, offers of support. and those who did the same using social media. The many of you who spoke to or wrote to colleagues, shared resources and scuttlebutt, took pictures at events, wrote blog posts, sent us links to news articles, got colleagues to come to meetings and events, used social media to help spread the word, and made the case so convincingly that we are all in this together.

There are so many of you who deserve to be thanked for doing this work that we have long since lost count, which is at once unfortunate because we can’t acknowledge each one of you by name but also amazing and wonderful because there are just so many of you that we can’t possibly keep track of everything you’ve done for us. The outpouring of support was so overwhelming that we remain in awe.

And finally (for now — and fear not, intrepid and beloved Association Council reps and Strike Paraders, and all you other wonderful people: we did not forget about you and will recognize you in the space very soon), although these two remarkable women should probably be thanked first by all of us:

Nothing that our team or chapter leadership achieves or accomplishes happens without the heroic and tireless work of our brilliant, fearless, and amazing WMU-AAUP office staff:

Lori M., WMU-AAUP administrative assistant. An indispensable part of the enterprise, Lori provides extensive support to the negotiation team, the chapter officers, and the Western Association of Retired Faculty. Her service on behalf of the faculty, during negotiations and all year round, along with her incredible resourcefulness, out-of-the-box thinking, sharp wit, and exquisitely tuned BS detector, make her a joy to work with. With an off-the-charts work ethic and initiative to spare, Lori thinks of absolutely everything . . . and then makes it happen. From the Herculean organizational feat that is the Fall BBQ, to helping with campaign strategies, to making sure everyone is where they need to be when they need to be there, to keeping communication flowing between the officers and the faculty, Lori has totally got that, usually long before it has occurred to anyone else.

Susan E., WMU-AAUP administrative manager, is in every respect a full-on member of the negotiation team who once again this year was at the table with team for nearly every session, including on Labor Day and until midnight on the final day of bargaining. She also coordinated all the support services associated with the negotiations, which are many and complex, and made sure that it was business as usual at Montague House the entire time she and the team were tied up in negotiations. She accomplished this so seamlessly that no one who didn’t know she was essentially working two full-time jobs all summer (and doing them both brilliantly) would have suspected a thing. Despite the insane demands that her role on the team added to her workload, Susan never once missed a beat. Running the office, making sure all the chapter’s bills got paid on time, keeping up with all the new legal and accounting requirements brought about by recent legislative mandates, cranking out our FOIA requests, anticipating and heading off crises, and remembering every sneaky trick ever pulled by the other side in a past negotiation, Susan is organized beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, as well as fearless,  brainy, and hilarious.

Thank you also to the wonderful students and alumni who came out to support the faculty and cheer us on, our awesome AFSCME colleagues and their outstanding leaders, especially Bryan Sutton (the AFSCME folks at WMU may have invented the concept of solidarity, because they are so amazingly good at it), our brave friends from the Administrative Professionals Association (who aren’t unionized but whose leadership and members had the courage to support us anyway), our compadres in the Professional Instructors Organization, who face a much steeper uphill battle than we do but have our backs anyway, and the principled and gutsy grad students who are the members and leaders of the WMU Teaching Assistants’ Union, especially chapter president Eric Denby, who is always among the first to step up on our behalf and who along with his membership reminds us of what a privilege and honor it is to work with them as their teachers, mentors, and colleagues. And we haven’t forgotten our stalwart supporters from the national AAUP, especially Howard Bunsis, Kira Schuman, and Michael Maurer. All y’all rock.