January 2019 WMU-AAUP leadership transition

Photo of outgoing WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick


Leadership Transitions + Lame-Duck Legislation:

The More Things Change… 

Letter to the faculty
from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick (2013-18) |

December 7, 2018 |


 

Dear colleagues,

Last week when I started thinking about what I would say in this message, I was thinking about how much has changed over the last six years, particularly since December 11, 2012, when Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan’s so-called “right to work” (RTW) bills into law. The legislation had been introduced during the lame-duck session that year, amid massive protests outside the Capitol building in Lansing. It passed along party lines without public hearings by a majority party that knew it would not have the votes when the new legislature convened in January 2013.

What I had been thinking last week that I would write about was how far Michigan has come since that terrible, blustery day in Lansing in December 2012, when I protested alongside faculty colleagues and members of WMU’s AFSCME and AFT locals, along with thousands of other people from all across the state. It seemed surreal that this kind of legislation could even be on the table in Michigan, let alone that it could pass. But it did, and here we are.

There will be no turning the clock back on the effects of RTW in Michigan, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision earlier this year in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which effectively nationalized RTW laws. Still, there are all kinds of other ways to improve the labor climate at the state level, provided that there is the political will to make it happen.

We have not seen much of that kind of political will in Lansing in recent years. Many of the values we share as the faculty of a public university, and as union members, have not been priorities for the majority party. Under their legislative and executive leadership, we have seen higher education funding decline and anti-labor legislation proliferate. In addition to RTW, we have witnessed the repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage laws and ongoing attacks on the rights and benefits of K-12 educators.

But last month, Michigan voters elected an unapologetically pro-labor governor, Gretchen Whitmer. That means starting next month, while we still won’t have a labor-friendly legislature, Lansing will start to feel a little less unfriendly. In last month’s election, the labor-unfriendly folks lost five seats – and their supermajority – in the state Senate and another five seats in the state House. Should they pass anti-union legislation or bills that would harm public higher education in the next session, we can count on Gov. Whitmer to veto it.

There are still any number of challenges ahead of us, I was thinking I would write, on campus and beyond, but for the first time almost a decade, the balance of political power in Michigan feels like it may be moving in a pro-labor, pro-education direction. With significant majorities of voters saying yes last month to the ballot initiatives to end gerrymandering and make voting and registration easier and more accessible, there is good reason for even more optimism in the next few years.

That’s what I was thinking about last week. And it’s all still true. But now that the Michigan legislature’s lame-duck session is underway, things are getting a little more complicated.

As in North Carolina in 2016 and more recently in Wisconsin, Michigan is now also the scene of what appear to be anti-democratic power grabs by a party whose legislative dominance was reduced (although not reversed) and who lost control of the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state when Michigan voters repudiated their candidates last month. They are now using bills introduced in the lame-duck session to try to limit the powers of those offices and also to weaken the anti-gerrymandering and voter-access initiatives, both of which voters favored overwhelmingly last month. Additionally, bills that would harm workers by cutting back planned minimum wage increases and paid sick leave protections have already passed both houses of the legislature and await the outgoing governor’s signature.

Several anti-union bills are also in the lame-duck mix, including Senate Bill 1260, which would require public-sector labor unions (like ours) to hold a recertification election every two years. It appears that the goal of SB 1260 is to try to neutralize union participation in electoral politics. The WMU-AAUP does not fund political candidates or ballot initiatives, so we are not a target for the bill’s sponsors, but that wouldn’t matter if this bill becomes law, because we would see the same increased demands on our resources as any other public-sector union, which would make it harder for us to do the work we are here to do: defend the contract and protect faculty rights.

When we came back to school after the holidays in January 2013, we had no way to know how the RTW laws would affect our chapter or our professional lives as university faculty and union members. Our contract was set to expire on September 5, 2014, after which date Western Michigan University would become a RTW campus.

We know now that we have not only survived RTW but have built significantly on the strength of our chapter and increased faculty engagement in union activities over the past six years. That doesn’t mean RTW wasn’t a serious blow to us after 40 years as an agency shop. It absolutely was. But more than anything, the continuing health and success of our chapter is a tribute to the more than 800 dues-paying members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit. Many of you took up the difficult but essential work of old-fashioned, on-the-ground, one-on-one union organizing and helped to plan and roll out our year-long contract campaign for the 2014 negotiation cycle. You’re the reason we’re still here, stronger than ever.

What we learned is that our model worked. Chapters in other states are following it now. They need to because the Janus v. AFSCME decision means that a lot of them are now where we were in 2013. Since RTW, we have had to direct more of our time and more of our chapter resources into organizing, outreach, and retention, no question. But we knew that was what it would take. We made a plan, we got ourselves trained, and most important, we collaborated. In small groups and large, within and across departments and colleges, on campus and in the community, the faculty showed up, had the conversations, and did the work. We did it with the understanding that in this new world of RTW, that work must be ongoing. And it has been.

After the election last month, I felt for the first time in six years a noticeable shift in the political energy in this state and the real possibility that positive change is in the offing. These lame-duck shenanigans, along with word of another anti-union case that is likely to end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court next year, have been an unwelcome reminder of how vigilant we are still going to have to be. In a country where for most of its history, citizens have mostly been able to count on peaceful transitions of power, these egregious attempted power grabs in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and now Michigan suggest that we may no longer be able to take for granted that the will of the electorate is going to be honored. Additionally, there is still well-funded, well-organized opposition to unions in this country and no chance that they will just give up and stop trying to ban collective action in the workplace and silence the voices of working people. If anything, they are emboldened by a string of recent victories in court and in state legislatures.

So, rather than a farewell message in which I say Yes! We have done all right! We are going to be OK! Things are going to get better! – although I still think all that is true – instead I will sign off my last message to the faculty as WMU-AAUP president with, perhaps appropriately, all things considered, a call to action:

First, we are going to need to be able to count on your continuing vigilance, your help to keep building strength and solidarity, and most of all, your visible and vocal engagement in the union. That means answering the call when you are needed, showing your allegiance proudly and unapologetically, and finding ways to support the organization that fit your schedule, your interests, and your skills. The WMU-AAUP has good work for everyone, a lot of it inspiring and even fun and all of it meaningful. Please plan to do more of it in 2019. (Bonus: It counts as professional service for tenure and promotion.)

Second, and this one’s more urgent: Please call, email, tweet at, post on their Facebook pages, and/or otherwise contact your state legislators and tell them to vote NO on these union-busting, anti-worker, anti-democratic lame-duck bills. Since unfortunately all are likely to pass both houses (at this writing, some already have), please also contact Gov. Rick Snyder and urge him to do the right thing by vetoing these terrible bills. At this point, he is going to be the only one who can stop any of this.

(Scroll down or click here for links to more information about the bills and contact information for our elected officials.)

While we’re on the subject of electoral politics, I will say that while I am generally opposed on principle to term limits, I am happy to make an exception in the case of our chapter leadership. Identifying and developing emerging leaders, and then standing back so that they can lead, are essential elements for ensuring the health and evolution of an organization like ours. I am excited about the deep bench of incoming and upcoming chapter leaders and proud of the work we have been doing over the past six years to build it.

In that spirit, I am also very much looking forward to handing over the reins (to coin a phrase) to WMU-AAUP President-elect Carol Weideman when she takes office officially on January 1, 2019. Thanks to Carol, VP-elect Mark St. Martin, and contract officers Robert Trenary and Natalio Ohanna, who will both continue in their positions into the new year, the WMU-AAUP will be in excellent hands going forward. I am excited about the new directions Carol and her team will take us, and I know I can count on all of you to make sure she knows you have her back the way so many of you have always had mine.

It has been a delight to work with Carol, Robert, and Natalio, and with chapter secretary Tim Michael and treasurer Betsy Aller. It has also been a privilege to serve alongside our many other fine officers over the years, all of whom deserve to be recognized by name (and I apologize for not doing that here). The same goes for the dedicated members of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, our college-level reps, whose labor on the faculty’s behalf is tireless and indispensable. That is also true of the WMU-AAUP Association Council, our department reps, who are some of the savviest, most engaged union activists on our campus. What a joy it has been to work with you. And speaking of people with whom it is a joy to work, our chapter staff, Susan Esman and Lori Maguire, belong at the top of that list. Their loyalty to the faculty, institutional memory, and just straight-up awesomeness are invaluable to the success of the chapter. They have made my job unimaginably easier in more ways than I can count and probably in more ways than I even realize.

This is not the easiest job in the world and can feel damn near impossible at times. But it also comes with some incredible rewards (alas, not of the remunerative kind). What stands out the most for me is the opportunities I’ve had to meet and work with colleagues in every college and nearly every academic unit, many of whose paths I might never have crossed were it not for this job. I never stop being blown away by the innovative, important, and brilliant work you are doing as researchers, scholars, artists, and teachers; how much you give of yourselves to make sure our students thrive; how quietly, humbly, invisibly, and selflessly you do much of your work as professors; and what extraordinarily wise, thoughtful, generous, and (best of all) incredibly kind human beings you are. I am proud to work alongside you as your faculty colleague, and it has been an honor beyond anything I can express in words to have served as your WMU-AAUP president. Thank you for trusting me with this responsibility and this privilege.

Wishing everyone a joyous and restorative holiday season and a happy, healthy new year.

With gratitude and in solidarity,
Lisa

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP

Guide to lame-duck legislation and contact info for elected officials:

  • Other worker-unfriendly bills (SB 1171 and 1175) that would significantly reduce the previously approved minimum wage increase and paid sick leave requirements:

Contact info for elected officials:

  • State house, 60th District (City of Kalamazoo, part of Kalamazoo Township and part of Portage): Rep. Jon Hoadley (517-373-1785). Rep. Hoadley has already voted against bills that would gut the previously approved minimum wage increase and paid sick-leave provisions and told me last week that his vote on SB 1260 is “definitely NO.” He has been a consistent fighter for higher education and labor rights, so please take a minute to give him a call to thank him if you are so inclined.
  • State house, 61st District (City of Portage, Townships of Oshtemo, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft and Texas): Rep. Brandt Iden (517-373-1774). Rep. Iden has already voted in favor of reducing the minimum wage increase and paid sick-leave requirements approved earlier this year. I don’t know that there is much hope here, but he definitely needs to hear from his constituents who are union members before SB 1260 goes to the House for a vote.
  • Gov. Rick Snyder: (517) 373-3400. When you call, please leave your name and your city, and state your request that the governor VETO Senate Bill 1260 and all lame-duck bills whose passage would harm working people, public education, and the democratic process in Michigan.

WMU-AAUP Chapter
814 Oakland Drive
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008
(269) 345-0151

Web: http://wmuaaup.org

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Photo of protestors outside the Michigan state capitol building

Protestors outside Michigan state capitol on December 11, 2012. (Photo: Paul Sancya, AP)

Photo of protestors outside Michigan state Capitol, December 11, 2012.

Protestors outside Michigan state capitol on December 11, 2012. (Photo: CNN)

Ohanna named interim contract administrator

photo of Dr. Natalio Ohanna

Dr. Natalio Ohanna

Dr. Natalio Ohanna, Department of Spanish, has been named interim contract administrator for the WMU-AAUP, effective August 1, 2018.

In addition to his interim appointment, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee has also voted to recommend Natalio to complete the two-year term that runs though August 31, 2019. The Association Council will meet to discuss this recommendation and hold a confirmation vote at its first meeting of the 2018-19 academic year on September 21.

Natalio joins the leadership team with a strong background in union activism and distinguished service on the WMU-AAUP Association Council.

Natalio writes:

“I feel honored to be selected for this job, because I recognize its significance, the obligations involved, as well as the tremendous value of advocating for our labor rights and for just and healthy work relations. I am aware that the colleagues selected for such service carry the weight of great responsibility, as they are defenders of many of the fundamental values of our WMU community, such as academic freedom, shared governance, ethical conduct, fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for others. Above all, I welcome this nomination as a passionate advocate for fairness and justice in our workplace.”

Please join us in welcoming Natalio to the WMU-AAUP leadership team. We look forward to working with him and extend our thanks to him for his willingness to serve in this challenging but essential role.

Grievance officer John Saillant to step down after 4 years, Trenary named interim GO

After more than four years in the demanding role of WMU-AAUP grievance officer, John Saillant (English and History) will step down effective August 14, 2017.

Robert Trenary (Computer Sciences) will assume the role of interim grievance officer on that date. (Read more about Robert here, and please join us in welcoming him to the WMU-AAUP leadership team.)

Throughout his years of service, John has been a stalwart union advocate and has provided support and guidance to countless faculty colleagues through the grievance process, tenure and promotion appeals, disciplinary proceedings, and workload appeals.

We don’t throw around the word “tireless” lightly at Montague House, but John has more than earned that descriptor. During his time in office, he has met with, listened to, corresponded with, counseled, and assisted scores if not hundreds of faculty members, from every college on campus and most if not every department.

We are all going to miss John, but we could not be more thrilled that he is about to embark on what is quite possibly the most well-deserved sabbatical of all time.

John’s commitment to the foundational AAUP principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and especially due process, along with his meticulous, analytical approach to problem-solving, not to mention his patience and kindness (and sense of humor) in even the most high-pressure situations, have been tremendous assets to the Chapter and to the faculty.

When we welcomed John to the WMU-AAUP leadership team in 2013, we especially admired his preparedness, his smarts, his calm and steady demeanor, and his unshakeable sense of justice. Four years later, we know now that we did not at that time know the half of what John would bring to the Chapter. John, we can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for all of us.

Colleagues, please join us in letting John know what his service has meant to you. And John, we wish you all good things as you move on to your next adventure.

Trenary named WMU-AAUP interim grievance officer; Saillant to step down after 4 years

Dr. Robert Trenary (Computer Science) has been named interim grievance officer for the WMU-AAUP, effective August 14, 2017.

Robert comes to us with extensive experience in labor relations, including union leadership experience in the K-12 sector prior to his joining the faculty at WMU and, more recently, 15 years of service on the St. Joseph County ISD School Board. Since his arrival at Western, he has been an active union member and has served multiple terms on the WMU-AAUP Association Council. An unswerving and well-informed union advocate, Robert brings to the interim grievance officer position extensive knowledge of the contract and a strong commitment to serving the faculty.

“The purpose of negotiations and that handshake we work so hard to institutionalize in the form of a contract requires constant attention because the University embodies a labor relationship and much more,” Robert writes. “Grievance is a process that maintains that handshake.”

In addition to voting unanimously to appoint him to the interim role, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee also recommends Robert unanimously to serve as the Chapter’s grievance officer for the two-year term that begins in September 2017 and runs through August 2019. Next month, the Association Council will meet to discuss this recommendation and hold a confirmation vote.

In the meantime, we could not be more delighted to welcome Robert to the WMU-AAUP leadership team as interim grievance officer. We are grateful for his willingness to accept this challenging role.

Robert joins us officially on August 14 (although he has already been spending a lot of time at Montague House), when long-serving WMU-AAUP grievance officer John Saillant (English and History) will step down after more than four years in the GO role.

Read more about John here, and please join us in expressing our gratitude for his outstanding service as grievance officer since April 2013. We will miss him but wish him well as he completes his stellar tenure as union officer and moves forward in pursuit of new challenges.

Mingus Named WMU-AAUP Contract Administrator

MatthewBargaining-unit faculty voted unanimously at the chapter meeting on February 16, 2017, to approve the appointment of Dr. Matthew Mingus, Professor of Public Administration, to the position of contract administrator of the WMU-AAUP, following the recommendation (also unanimous) of the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee on February 10.

With extensive union experience, including service as WMU-AAUP chapter president (2013) and on the 2011 bargaining team, as well as internationally recognized expertise in public administration, Matthew brings a wealth of valuable skills and knowledge to the position.

He will serve as interim contract administrator until the current term expires on August 31, 2017. On September 1, 2017, he will begin a two-year term that runs through August 31, 2019.

We could not be more delighted to have Matthew back on the WMU-AAUP leadership team and appreciate his willingness to serve in this demanding and often difficult job. Please join us in welcoming (and thanking) him.

 

Association Council recommends faculty approval of solidarity resolution

WMU-AAUP Association Council Recommends Faculty Approval of
Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Letter to the faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

November 15, 2016

Dear colleagues,

After a lengthy and intense discussion at the WMU-AAUP Association Council meeting last Friday, the AC voted to draft a resolution to express support for WMU students in response to disturbing incidents that have occurred on our own campus and others over the past week.

Once drafted and circulated, the proposed resolution was approved 44 to 1 in a secret-ballot vote (plus one abstention) of the WMU-AAUP Association Council, Executive Committee, and officers, who now recommend full faculty approval. All members of the WMU-AAUP bargaining unit will soon receive an electronic ballot to vote on whether to approve.

Click here for the text of the proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students.

As most of you are aware, many of our students have reported feeling unwelcome, vulnerable, and even fearful for their safety and wellbeing or for the safety of classmates. Students of color, LGBT students, international students, and other minority students report feeling particularly vulnerable since the presidential election last week.

At a student-organized meeting on campus on November 10, I listened to what many of these students had to say. Their reports were chilling and disheartening: Some of our LGBT students said they will not be going home for Thanksgiving next week because family members have told them that they are not welcome, or they are afraid to go home because of concerns about increased hostility from relatives who do not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. International and immigrant students report that they are fearful of attacks and deportation. More recently, some students have reported harassment on the street or on campus and finding notes on their cars with racial or homophobic epithets.

In other contexts, I have had occasion to observe that the intellectual character of a university is determined by its faculty. While that is critically important to our role at Western Michigan University, intellectual character is not the only kind of character that matters, nor is it the only kind that faculty model regularly for our students and community, even though we may not always be fully aware that we are doing so. Our ethical principles and moral convictions are critical to our work as faculty members, and never more so than when they are being tested, as they are now.

Listening to these students at the meeting last Thursday, it occurred to me that they might appreciate a reminder of how seriously we take our charge to do right by them, not only intellectually but also as the mentors and role models we are for them.

I brought this topic to the Association Council last Friday, and the result of that conversation – which was intense, passionate, painful at times, but also inspiring – is the proposed Resolution in Solidarity we present now for your consideration.

We understand that some of our colleagues may not be comfortable with this resolution or its intentions. We hope that you will be willing to engage in a dialogue about how we can best honor our commitments to one another as a faculty as well as to our students at a time when some of them feel that they have reason to be afraid for their lives.

The next meeting of the WMU-AAUP Association Council is Friday, January 20, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. Association Council meetings are open to all bargaining-unit members, and we encourage you to join us on January 20 so that we can all listen to and talk about the diverse perspectives our colleagues bring to these issues. We’ll meet in 157 Bernhard.

As individuals, we don’t need to have felt unsafe ourselves to understand why it is important to make a public statement in solidarity with our students. Even those of us who have never been targeted or felt vulnerable because of the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, disability, national origin, or religious beliefs can of course empathize with those who have. And sadly, many of our faculty colleagues have felt this way themselves, including right here on our own campus. It is important that we stand with these colleagues, and I look forward to our conversations in the near future – and I hope at the January 20 AC meeting – about how we can all do a better job of that.

But today I am asking you to consider the proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students.

The Association Council and I understand also that there may be concerns about the possibility of causing hurt or distress to students who may not be members of protected groups but who may also fear backlash because of their political beliefs. We share these concerns and have crafted the resolution to try to make clear that we are here for all Western Michigan University students, even while we are also trying to address the immediate safety concerns that disproportionately affect students of color, LGBT students, and international students.

Many thanks in advance for your thoughtful consideration of this important matter.

In solidarity,
Lisa

Lisa C. Minnick
President, WMU-AAUP

Proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity with Western Michigan University Students

Recommended by the WMU-AAUP Association Council, Executive Committee, and officers, for the faculty’s consideration. WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit members are now voting on this proposal, with votes due electronically by 4 p.m. on Friday, November 18. More information about the proposed resolution is available by clicking here.

Proposed WMU-AAUP Resolution in Solidarity
with Western Michigan University Students

Whereas the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, represented by our collective-bargaining chapter of the American Association of University Professors, stands for academic excellence, shared governance, higher education as a public good, and academic freedom;

Whereas our core academic mission includes the work of instruction, research, scholarship, creative activity, and professional service;

Whereas this work is foundational to the development of our students as knowledgeable and engaged citizens, informed participants in the democratic process, and possessors of a spirit of tolerance and acceptance;

Whereas the intellectual character of a university is determined by its faculty;

Whereas the faculty therefore also appropriately models character for our students and for the community in other ways, including with respect to our ethical principles and moral convictions;

Whereas these values inform our understanding and acceptance of the immense and humbling responsibility that we carry in the form of our students’ trust in us: that we will treat them with respect, with fairness, with compassion, and with generosity of spirit;

Whereas the faculty takes seriously its role in modeling, teaching, and facilitating critical thinking and respectful discourse;

Whereas we recognize the challenges inherent in the exploration of controversial issues and ideas as well as the intellectual growth that can result from engaging these ideas respectfully and thinking critically about them;

Whereas many Western Michigan University students are now feeling vulnerable, unwelcome, or even fearful for their safety and wellbeing or for the safety and wellbeing of their classmates;

Whereas every student is welcome at Western Michigan University and deserves to feel accepted, included, empowered, and safe here;

Be it resolved that the Board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University, individually and collectively, stands in solidarity with the students of this university and extends to them our attention, our understanding, our support, our advocacy, and – when and if they need it – our protection, at this singular moment in our nation’s history and always.