by Walter Kraft, Published August 25, 2010
YPSILANTI, Mich. -- Eastern Michigan University is negotiating a new three-year agreement with its faculty union, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The University is seeking to achieve a fair, competitive and economically sustainable contract that addresses the challenging economic environment brought about primarily by dramatically increasing health care costs, while at the same time recognizing the excellent quality of faculty members and their partnership in the University's success.
"The excellent faculty of Eastern Michigan University have demonstrated their commitment to providing students a high quality education," said Provost and Executive Vice President Jack Kay. "Enhancing quality is the principle we have taken in formulating our proposal for compensation and non-compensation issues. Our proposal rewards faculty and enables them to share in EMU's success in increasing enrollment."
The EMU AAUP has requested a more than 12-percent salary increase over the life of the next three-year contract. The salary increase request comes at a time when the University is facing increasing economic challenges due to dramatically higher health care costs and continued cuts in state aid. Many higher education institutions, as well as private industry, have already realized and implemented health care cost changes to address increasing costs. The AAUP is resisting efforts to increase its share of the health care burden, so far refusing to increase the current premium share contribution level of zero in one of the primary health insurance options offered to employees. Under the current plan, the maximum premium share for an employee is $95/month for a participant in the family plan.
The administration's bargaining team first presented its salary proposal to the union on Aug. 16, a date agreed upon by both parties earlier in the negotiations. The union presented its more than 12-percent increase proposal thereafter. The administration's most recent proposal calls for an increase of 1 percent effective Jan.1, 2011, another 1 percent in July 2011, and a 1-percent increase in July 2012.
In an effort to have the AAUP share in the university's success, an additional 1-percent increase is being offered in each year of the agreement based on a unique and innovative incentive package tied to a formula that combines future enrollment growth with state funding. The formula has already been met for the first year of the contract. An additional 1-percent increase on top of the base increase for 2011 and 2012 is possible under the formula, conceivably leading to a salary package with total increases of 1, 2, and 2 percent over the three years.
Additionally, the administration has proposed a $5,000 salary increase for its most experienced faculty -- Full Professors who have held that status for 10 or more years. Upon meeting certain evaluation criteria, which are being discussed at the bargaining table, the faculty member would receive a salary increase of $5,000 at the beginning of the next academic year. This salary increase would significantly enhance the salary position of qualifying Eastern faculty members relative to their counterparts at comparable institutions.
"Challenging times require innovative ideas," said Walter Kraft, vice president for communications. "Partnership is more important than ever. Our salary offers are based on the current economic environment and address the dramatic increases in health care costs that must be considered in any agreement moving forward. The union's salary proposal calling for a more than 12-percent increase over three years is simply unrealistic in today's economic environment.
"We are working together in good faith to address the difficult challenges of our increasing health care costs, which rose more than 15 percent last year, from $15.7 million to $18.1 million," said Kraft. Those costs are projected considerably higher this year due to significant medical cost inflation as well as federal health reform, which mandates coverage of adult children up to 26 years old.
"In this economy it is imperative that we do all that we can to remain accessible and affordable for Michigan students and their families," said Kraft. "A 12-percent salary increase would result in an equally unrealistic, unpopular and unnecessary tuition increase to cover those costs. We need to continue to be responsive to the needs of our students at these challenging times."
Negotiations with the AAUP began in May. The unit represents 699 current faculty members, with an average total salary of more than $91,618 (W-2 data). The faculty members received a 3.75 percent increase this year. According to the AAUP's annual report on salary surveys, the average pay increase nationwide for faculty in 2009-2010 was 1.2 percent.
Eastern continues to add to the number of its faculty - the new academic year will begin with 14 additional full-time faculty over last year, a result of 43 faculty searches authorized for Fall 2010 hires.
The negotiations have resulted in many tentative agreements on a variety of issues in a positive spirit of collaboration. Daily negotiations are currently under way. "We remain hopeful and committed to resolving outstanding issues so that our students will get the high quality education they desire," said Kraft. "We will remain at the table until we get it done."
The administration will conduct an open campus budget and health care forum on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 2 p.m. in the Student Center Auditorium to provide additional background on the economic challenges brought on by increasing health care costs and health care reform. Further information on the negotiations can be found at www.emich.edu/negotiations.