EMU calls for mediation to help resolve bargaining issues with EMU-AAUP
YPSILANTI -- Eastern Michigan University officials announced today they have requested that the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) appoint a mediator to work with them and the EMU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (EMU-AAUP) to resolve outstanding contract issues.
"We've hit a difficult stage in our contract negotiations with a number of issues still outstanding and compensation now on the table," said James Greene, EMU's chief negotiator. "We believe mediation is the most effective means to reach an agreement."
Greene said that the University bargaining team was surprised by the large number of proposals the AAUP brought forward in the last five days. "Last spring when negotiations to extend the contract began, the AAUP identified four issues. Today there are 19 economic issues and 17 non-economic issues on the table."
Key issues include: wages; health care for retirees and spouse to age 65; the addition of a set number of faculty positions; and the administration of online courses.
"What is especially troubling is the significant difference in what the union asked for in March during contract extension talks and what they presented earlier this week," said Pamela Young, EMU spokesperson. "In March, the AAUP proposal asked for a 2 percent wage increase. Their latest request is for direct salary increases of almost 6 "percent and a total package that would cost the University more than $6.5 million in the first year alone." That request is excessive given current economic conditions, Young said.
Like all state universities, EMU has had to deal with state budget cuts of more than 15 percent over the past two years and has eliminated 122 positions. That, plus the continued uncertainty of the current budget, the threat that the Governor may withdraw her tuition pledge agreement, and the budget impact of predicted enrollment declines and the addition of new faculty searches requires that the University temper how it addresses compensation matters.
Since 1999-2000, average salaries for EMU professors increased 16.7 percent; associate professors, 19.5 percent; and assistant professors, 23.1 percent. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 9.9 percent during that same period.
"During the last negotiations the University made a significant commitment to improve the relative position of the faculty compared to our peer institutions, and we have done that," Young said. "Our average professor's salary ranked 15th in 1999 and 14th in 2003. Associate professors improved from 15th to 11th, and assistant professors moved from 15th to 7th. "
The University has offered faculty a 2 percent increase for each of the next two years, a proposal the University believes is fair given current economic conditions and the minimal wage increases provided to its six other bargaining units and non-bargained-for staff, said Young. "If you look at our sister institutions across the state, you won't find any wage increases of 6 percent," she said.
Eastern Michigan's commitment to faculty goes beyond the 19.5 percent increase they've received since 2000, Young said. "When the University implemented an early (retirement) incentive program (EIP) for faculty last fall, it agreed to replace all 47 of the positions vacated. Just last week, President Willis authorized an additional 25 faculty searches. There aren't many Universities that will be adding 72 faculty members next fall. That's a strong statement of support," she said.
Another area the University hopes a mediator will be able to help resolve is health care. "Anyone who has read the news or heard news reports over the past few years knows that health care costs have escalated," Young said.
A recent MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends found that five out of six employees that get medical coverage have to pay for some or all of it. "Eastern Michigan University is one of the very few employers that still pays 100 percent of the premium for employee and spouse or domestic partner health care," said Young. "To continue to offer zero co-pay health benefits, the University has to leverage its buying power to offset what has been a 17 percent increase in cost over a two-year period. All employees except faculty are covered by a PPO. Current faculty members have the choice between the PPO and a much more costly traditional plan," Young said.
In order to encourage current faculty members to choose the less expensive PPO, the University is offering a $1,000 increase to their base salary. The incentive payment would be forfeited if the person left the PPO. All new faculty members would be covered by the PPO.
"We believe this is a creative way to permit current faculty to retain a choice of coverage, while allowing the University to maximize its purchasing power so that it can continue to provide fully-paid health care," Young said. In contrast, the AAUP has asked for 50 percent paid health care for retirees and spouse to age 65, a proposal that could cost the University millions, she said.
Young said she hopes that ongoing discussions with the AAUP regarding Continuing Education will be referred to the Presidential Task Force on Continuing Education that Willis established Aug. 20. "As President Willis indicated in his e-mail to the University community, the issues surrounding how the University will deliver Continuing Education (off-campus or online) classes is complicated and requires a deliberate, reasoned approach," Young said. "The president has made a personal commitment to leading this task force and dealing with this set of issues thoughtfully over the next several months."
EMU and AAUP bargaining teams have been meeting regularly throughout the summer. Despite their differences on several major issues, Greene said he is hopeful both sides, working with a mediator, will be able to reach a fair and equitable contract. The MERC-appointed mediator will serve as a go-between in future negotiation sessions, relaying information to each party while working to clarify arguments and positions. The mediator's role will be to keep EMU and the AAUP engaged in the negotiation process, and focused on achieving a satisfactory and mutually agreeable contract.
"I know the University is committed to beginning classes Sept. 1 as planned. We certainly hope that a work stoppage, which is illegal under Michigan law for public employees, won't happen. It's in the students' best interest that classes start as scheduled and that the University continue to do what it does best; providing students with an outstanding education," Greene said.
The AAUP represents 635 members, 31 percent of EMU's total workforce. Their current contract with the University expires at midnight Aug. 31.
Eastern Michigan University is a public, comprehensive university that offers programs in the arts, sciences and professions. EMU prepares students with the intellectual skills and practical experiences to succeed in their career and lives, and to be better citizens.
Editor's Note: Looking for an expert source for a story? Check out EMU's Eastern Experts online at www.emich.edu/univcomm/easternexperts.