by Lisa Minnick
Who are we? That’s a good question. (Western Michigan University promotional image)
September 4, 2017
Our contract expires at midnight on Tuesday, September 5. As I publish this, that is less than 36 hours from now. And our team needs us more than ever to stand with them and fight for a fair contract that respects our contributions to the institution by moving us forward rather than backwards.
The faculty and staff have been expected time and time again over the last several contract cycles to take one for the team. And we have done it. Repeatedly. By now, we have take so many for the team for so long that a lot of us are starting to feel that we’re not actually considered part of the team by some of the university’s senior leadership.
Most of us have reached the limit of sacrifices that we can reasonably make or should reasonably be asked or expected to make. Many of our faculty and staff colleagues at the lower end of the salary spectrum reached that limit long ago. These are personal sacrifices I’m talking about, financial hits that affect the lives of real people and their families. Faculty and staff have been called upon again and again, year after year, to make personal sacrifice after personal sacrifice.
Many of our bargaining-unit members and staff colleagues are feeling real pain as a result. They can’t afford their insurance premiums. They are struggling to make their student loan payments (PhDs are expensive). They are having a hard time making their mortgage payments. They’re afraid that they won’t ever be able to retire, that they will have to keep working until they are physically or cognitively incapable of working any longer. And then they fear the very real possibility that they will live out their elder years in permanent financial distress.
Meanwhile, the people across the table from our team enjoy a mean salary of $190,000. One of them even got a $25,000 cash bonus in March 2017, which is of course unheard of for faculty and staff. Where are their sacrifices?
So, to my WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit colleagues: I am asking all of you in advance for your forgiveness, because I am no longer interested in being polite and saying please. We have real people, faculty and staff, who every single day give everything they’ve got to Western Michigan University. We do this out of our deep love for this institution, for our students, our alumni, this community, our academic disciplines, learning and knowledge (including for its own sake), and for our work as professors, teachers, researchers, scholars, artists, and mentors. These gifts, which go way beyond what we are hired or paid to do, are always happily (if not humbly) accepted by the institution. The university administration understands as well as we do that both our actual compensated work (as defined by the contract and in our letters of appointment) and our goodwill donations of labor are essential to keeping this whole enterprise afloat.
But still they refuse to compensate us fairly. Sometimes I like to try to imagine what they’d get out of us if we felt appreciated, including when we open our paychecks. Imagine what we could all achieve if taking care of the people who do the work of the university was among its highest priorities. I wonder if that is something they ever think about.
At this point, I don’t think trying to be nice about it (“Please sir, can I have some more?”) is something that would work (it never has), nor is it sufficiently worthy of our dignity. I am hoping that instead, our showing up to tomorrow’s events in large numbers and demanding that the administration finally start doing right by the faculty and staff will be the action it takes to close the deal in a way that appropriately honors the work we do.
I am preparing for tomorrow’s events (the chapter meeting at 3:30 in 157 Bernhard, BBQ 5-7 at Montague House, and rally at 6:20 at Montague House), still optimistic that these actions will result in a contract deal we can agree to by the midnight deadline Tuesday night.
But if they don’t, I am fully prepared on behalf of the chapter to mobilize the faculty and launch the work-to-rule labor action at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, September 6.
I do think that one thing the faculty and administration can agree on is that we would all prefer not to have the 900 members of the Board-appointed faculty starting the new academic year without a contract. I believe that we all want a tentative agreement by the deadline.
But we will not agree to a contract that is beneath our dignity. We will not stand for the quality of our professional lives, the economic security of the 900 families we represent, or the morale of the faculty and staff of Western Michigan University to be eroded and degraded any further.