Historic Victory for EMU Lecturers

I go away for a weekend of rest and relaxation and come home to historic news. The Adjunct Lecturers’ Organizing Committee / EMU Federation of Teachers at Eastern Michigan University have reached an agreement with EMU administrators on the makeup of a bargaining unit for the 500 (plus or minus; we’ve never been able to establish a definite number) part-time lecturers at EMU. Anyone who teaches one credit or more per year is a member, in total agreement with the lecturers’ long-time battle cry: “One syllabus, one vote.” There are a few exceptions but all were within the group that we figured all along would be excluded: visiting professors, doctoral fellows, and teaching assistants.

As Acting EMU-FT President Sonya Alvarado explained:

Part-time, non-tenure-track faculty who teach one or more credit hours will be allowed to vote to be part of our union. The agreement between the university and us includes the stipulation that there be two contracts for our union, one for full-time non-tenure-track faculty and one for part-time non-tenure-track faculty. This does not mean we will be separate unions. We will be one union operating under one constitution with two separate contracts. This historic agreement fulfills the mandate of our current constitution in Article 2 Section 3 that states, “EMU-FT shall work to bring collective bargaining rights to all EMU Lecturers as rapidly as possible.”

The instructors have petitioned the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to hold an election this spring. According to a joint statement from EMU and EMU-FT, “An election will be conducted by mail ballot, to give as many instructors as possible an opportunity to participate. Should the EMU Federation of Teachers be certified as the collective bargaining representative for the adjunct teaching instructors, contract negotiations for an initial agreement would begin this fall term.”

Of course, a no vote by the majority of voting lecturers kills the deal.

But I predict there’s no way in hell that’s going to happen. Not after the incredible work done by the organizing committee of ALOC / EMU-FT and the representatives of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union. Not after the strong support shown the lecturers by the entire campus community and the surrounding towns of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Not after the long struggle on the part of adjunct faculty to be shown the dignity that they deserve. Not after this much time waiting for our due.

The drive to unionize EMU lecturers began in March 1992, when a group of us, working with Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT), began an official campaign to determine if there was a “show of interest” among lecturers in the idea of unionizing. There was, but the university was hostile and underhanded in their opposition. It took us nine long, frustrating, but ultimately exhilarating years. The day before our right to form a bargaining unit was recognized, the then-president resigned. We took full credit for getting rid of him. Our following electoral victory was historic. The resulting EMU-FT was the first bargaining unit in the state of Michigan to be composed entirely of adjunct faculty. Unfortunately, victory required a painful compromise: part-timers were excluded.

This week’s decision—and our upcoming electoral victory—brings the long 18-year struggle to a successful end.

But I’ll save my final celebration until after the vote.

In the meantime, I’m starting my initial celebration now because even this much is a huge victory. The organizing committee and supporters wrote letters, picketed, leafleted, attended and spoke at regents’ meeting, conducted peaceful sit-ins in President Susan Martin’s office, blogged, and, in general, not only got out the word that we were serious and demanded respect but made it clear that we weren’t going to go down quietly.

To the credit of President Martin and EMU Provost/Executive Vice President Jack Kay, they recognized the inevitability of our victory and the bad press that would come to the university if they refused to recognize us. In conceding the end of obstruction, Kay is quoted as saying in the joint statement:

“This agreement will give an additional estimated 500 teachers the opportunity to elect a collective bargaining representative and join our many valued teaching faculty who are already represented. Eastern Michigan highly values the important contribution our adjunct teaching instructors make to the education of our students. We support their right to organize, and to exercise their right to choose their bargaining representative. We value the strong, collaborative working relationship that we have with our many unions on campus, including the EMU Federation of Teachers, who would represent our adjuncts if elected. We look forward to building on that tradition of collaboration.”

It’s so touchy-feely it just makes me want to kiss him.

But I have a better idea. I’m going to vote yes.