The EMU is seeking an injunction to get striking professors back into classrooms
Ypsilanti – Eastern Michigan University has filed a lawsuit in Washtenaw County District Court asking a judge to order striking faculty members to return to work, a university official said.
The EMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, made up of more than 500 tenured and part-time faculty members, voted 91% in favor of the strike Tuesday night after negotiations broke down.
Sticking points are salary increases and health costs, said the union and the university.
“This unlawful strike is causing and will cause permanent and irreparable injury to EMU, EMU students, non-AAUP EMU employees and the public for which there is no adequate remedy,” the university’s emergency motion for an injunction reads.
The EMU has asked the court to grant an injunction to prevent employees from going on strike in violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act. The 1947 law prohibits employees of a public institution from going on strike.
If a judge agrees, the injunction would force EMU professors back into the classroom.
The union “will file a strong response” to oppose the administration’s request for the injunction, it said in a press release on Wednesday. The union cited “repeated unfair labor practices” as the reason for the strike and said the administration’s inability to “prove irreparable damage” from a strike that has so far lasted less than 24 hours will overturn any injunction.
“We’re pretty confident that we could win it (the injunction response),” said Marguerite DeiBello, an EMU nursing professor and a member of the union’s negotiating team.
Some professors said legal action by the university was demoralizing.
“I will always, always, always do my best for my students,” said EMU English professor Christine Neufeld. “When your morale is low and you feel disrespected, it’s difficult to do your best and do your best. … Demoralizing the people who are the heart of the community is not good business practice.”
The EMU administration dismissed allegations of unfair labor practices, saying even a one-day break in classes mattered to students.
“Every allegation by the union about unfair labor practices is completely false,“ said university spokesman Walter Kraft. “There were no unfair labor practices related to this negotiation process. The parties are simply struggling to clarify the primary financial terms of their employment contract.”
“The unresolved economic and health issues at the negotiating table that led to the faculty leaving are best resolved through continued negotiations,” Kraft said.
EMU freshman Skyler Lammers had canceled classes as a result of the strike and feared the injunction could affect the quality of education students are receiving.
“Ultimately, we want them back to work,” Lammers said. “But you have to question the quality of education they will give if they feel compelled… if they are being forced to go back to work in conditions they don’t want, that doesn’t seem like the way it really is should be fair.”
The strike “will be settled at the negotiating table, not in a courtroom,” union leader and EMU professor Mohamed El-Sayed said in a press release on Wednesday.
Contract negotiations were due to resume at 10 a.m. today. The union is awaiting a “written” proposal from management, DeBello said.
Dozens of professors in red shirts joined students in front of the administration building and along the streets in the heart of the campus in Ypsilanti on Wednesday. They demanded fairness and cooperation.
“We don’t want to be out here,” DeBello said on the picket line. “We want to be with our students in our classrooms. We will be out here until the administration hears us and understands that they have to be fair.”
The university did not know how many courses were canceled, but said in a Wednesday press release that “many courses have taken place, led by both faculty and faculty who are not part of the faculty association.” Most students polled by The Detroit News said most of their classes have been canceled.
The union has been without a contract for a week amid disagreements in talks with the university, largely because the university insisted on a health plan that was more expensive than the previous one, the striking faculty said.
“People who have lower incomes than I did at university may have to choose between quality health care and wages, and that’s not fair,” DeBello said. “They shouldn’t have to choose between health care and wages. You have family.”
EMU officials said: “Keeping classrooms running for our students is a priority.”
The EMU administration on Monday released documents reflecting the salaries of full-time, associate and assistant professors for 2021-2022. But those numbers aren’t accurate, said Diane Guevara, an assistant professor at the College of Engineering and Technology, after seeing the numbers released by The Detroit News.
“The lowest was 74 (thousand dollars), I’m below that,” Guevara said. “It really annoyed me that it wasn’t even shown exactly what those of us who are lowest are.”
The students are largely supporting their striking professors, said computer science senior Sam Keim.
Keim said older students weren’t worried about falling behind in their final semester because professors anticipated the strike and distributed materials to keep students on track in their classes. Regarding students paying tuition while classes have been canceled, Keim said students are more concerned about their teachers being paid a living wage.
“The main thing I hear from students about tuition is why are we paying so much and they can’t even pay our teachers,” said Keim, who canceled two out of three classes.
Freshman Robert Povlich has only been on campus for two weeks but said he has heard many conversations from students about the possibility of a strike.
“Your problem is our problem. You are here to teach us and we are here to learn. So if they don’t teach, it’s our problem as much as theirs,” Povlich said as he marched with the faculty.
Another freshman, Rylee Curly, echoed Povlich’s concerns about learning loss after her first class of the day was canceled, but she too was more concerned about professors being treated fairly.
“If your professors aren’t paid well, you won’t get a good education,” said Curly, a psychology student.
Four of the five courses for Povlich, an environmental major, have been canceled, he said.
“I pay a lot of money to be here. When it comes down to it, I’d rather give my money to the people who teach me than line the pockets of someone unrelated to me,” Povlich said.