Eastern Michigan U. faculty strike for equity in health care

YPSILANTI, Mich. (AP) — Several dozen faculty at Eastern Michigan University began a strike Wednesday after their union and the school’s administration failed to agree on a new labor contract.

They held signs aloft calling for a fair contract outside Welch Hall on the school’s Ypsilanti campus, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of Detroit. The faculty say health care plans are growing more costly.

Hours later, Eastern Michigan filed a lawsuit in Washtenaw County Circuit court seeking to have a judge order striking faculty back to their classrooms.

The faculty union, which had warned Tuesday of the strike, had said the administration was not bargaining in good faith. Negotiations were expected to continue Wednesday despite the strike. The previous contract expired last month and Eastern Michigan’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors voted 91% in favor of authorizing more than 500 tenured and tenure-track faculty to stage a strike.

Engineering professor and union president Mohamed El-Sayed said the two sides’ issues “will be settled at the bargaining table, not in a courtroom.”

“Instead of filing lawsuits which have no merit, EMU administrators should focus their efforts on good faith bargaining so we can reach a fair agreement which supports our students,” El-Sayed said.

The Associated Press left an email Wednesday afternoon seeking comment from the school on the injunction filing.

Chemistry instructor Heather Holmes walked the picket line Wednesday and told MLive.com that the university is insisting on a faculty health care plan that is more costly than previously bargained plans.

One proposal would raise premiums by roughly $8,000, she said.

“The main thing being that the administration is trying to force us to take a deal in health care that none of the other groups on campus have,” Holmes said. “And we’re asking for the same deal that they’ve got.”

The school has said classes will be held as scheduled through the week. Students have been advised to report to classes and wait at least 15 minutes to determine whether their instructor will be teaching.

“It is unfortunate that rather than continue to follow the mediator’s path, with active negotiations still underway, the faculty union is asking its members to walk out and disrupt students’ education just seven days into the semester,” Eastern Michigan spokesman Walter Kraft said Tuesday in a statement.

The school also said it has filed for state-appointed independent fact finding to help reach a solution with the union.

“We understand the union’s frustration with being asked to share more of the increasing costs of providing health care to employees and families,” Kraft added. “But there are very few employers and employees in the United States, or among the other bargaining units at this university, that have not had to make similar adjustments to health care costs.”

Junior Allison Prieskorn told MLive.com that some of her instructors have said they will suspend grading until a strike is over.

“As part of the education program myself — I’m early childhood — I agree that teachers should have equal rights and get certain things,” Prieskorn said. “But as the student perspective, it’s a little difficult and has caused a lot of confusion in my classes on whether we’re going to have class or not and what this means for the rest of the year. If I don’t have my classes that I’ve already paid for, then am I getting refunded for them?”

About 16,300 students were enrolled at Eastern Michigan in 2020. It’s faculty last struck in 2006 for two weeks.

Full-time EMU faculty earned $101,300 on average in salary and health care benefits between 2021 and 2022, according to documents released by the administration Monday. Associate professors earned $85,600 and assistant professors made $74,000.

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