Chants, Cheers, Crowds, & the Flapping of Incidental Giant Puppets: The Excitement of Opening Day

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Pierpont Commons, North Campus. October 27, 2017.

The first day of contract negotiations between LEO and the U-M administration was marked by a stunning opening statement (more on that in a future post) by LEO vice-president and bargaining-team manager Kirsten Herold, delivered to a single row of admins as a standing-room-only crowd of lecturers sat and stood behind her.

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It entailed an enthusiastic noon rally where LEO members were joined by allies — graduate students, undergraduates, tenure-track faculty members, local and state politicians, leaders of fellow unions, student organizations, and social-justice groups. We chanted. We booed injustice. We cheered for our just (and maybe even glorious) shared vision. Yes, we failed to convert the neighboring performing-arts-school parade of giant puppets and their handlers to our cause, but we tried. (A big shout out to Allie Hirsch for spearheading that particular effort!)

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After the rally, after lunch, the bargaining kickoff culminated in a discussion about The Biggest Issue: salary. The LEO proposal involved, off the top of my head, significant elevation of salary minimums for everyone, also-significant annual raises across the board for everyone, bigger pay bumps after passing major reviews, longevity raises to fight salary compression and inversion for Lec IIs and Lec IVs who have taught at U-M for a while, and open-ended contracts for those who have made it to a Continuing Renewal Review.

We asked for a lot. We'll be asking for even more.

LEO will be asking for a lot because we deserve a lot. We deserve a lot partly because lecturers generate so much tuition revenue annually for the University of Michigan. (Reminder: In 2016-2017 alone, we generated over $377 million in profit for the admin last year. Profit. As in, after they paid us our salaries and benefits. Ever wonder where that money has gone?) We deserve a lot partly because we're talented educators who could earn double at other schools. (e.g., Washtenaw Community College starts its full-time faculty salaries at $57,491 in 2017-2018 if one has a master's, $75,010 with a Ph.D.). We deserve a lot partly because we've already taken our share of financial bullets  for the University of Michigan. (Go Blue!)

Will we get what we asked for? Um, that's kinda up to all of us. "United, we bargain; divided, we beg" remains true. If a few people show up, we'll get a little bit. If a bunch of people show up, we'll get more. Last year, our sister union, the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO), fared so well in their own contract negotiations because they could demonstrate widespread support both within and outside their membership. Even when LEO's leadership reaches out to potential and actual allies, all of those allies will then look back over to us to see if we ourselves actually appear to care. We have to show up. We have to care more than our possible allies, or else why should they waste their energy, their social and political capital?

The good news is that a lot of LEO members and allies did show up on Friday, enough to provoke visible and audible responses on both sides of the bargaining table. Someone who has been present to negotiate every single LEO contract noted that it was "probably our most successful first day ever, which is a testament to the hard work on both the organizing and bargaining prep side." It was really, really cool.

What was even cooler was that when a bunch of people left, a bunch of new people came. No one had to play diehard revolutionary. No one had to stay forever and burn out. Waves. We left and returned in waves. Nobody's asking anyone to become a whole ocean. But let's take turns being part of a rising tide. There are 1660 U-M lecturers currently covered by the contract, a contract we can vastly improve. Let's wash away some obdurate administrative attitudes. (And here I switch metaphors...) Let's win this marathon by turning it into a massive relay race. Come to watch. (It's a bit like watching poker.) Come to listen. Come with a book. Come with some stuff to grade. Come for the whole day (typically 9-5). Come just for an hour or two. Come once or twice. Come for every session. But come. To repeat another adage, "You're either at the table or on the menu." So pull up a chair for as long as you can.

The next bargaining session will take place in UM-Flint's University Center (UCEN), in Michigan Rooms C&D on the first floor, from 9 AM to 5 PM, on Friday, November 3, 2017. 

Going to Flint and got a car? Need a ride to Flint? Please click on  https://goo.gl/forms/AGE8YW1VGFOJNfah1if you do!