EMU faculty strike continues as university tries to force professors back to work

By: - September 8, 2022 6:38 am

Members of the Eastern Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors walked the picket line on Wednesday. | Ken Coleman

A union representing Eastern Michigan University faculty announced on Wednesday that it will file a “forceful response” opposing a request by the university administration for an injunction forcing school professors back to work after hitting the picket line that morning.

The declaration came after the university administration filed suit in Washtenaw County Circuit Court earlier in the day, asking a judge to force its faculty union back into the classroom.

In a vote Tuesday, 91% of the more than 500 tenured and tenure track faculty had approved the strike action.

“Our strike against the EMU administration’s repeated illegal unfair labor practices will be settled at the bargaining table, not in a courtroom,” said Mohamed El-Sayed, professor of engineering at EMU and president of EMU’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (EMU-AAUP). “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.”

EMU-AAUP members had been working the past week without a contract. The previous agreement expired at midnight Aug. 31.

Eastern Michigan University | Ken Coleman

An EMU spokesperson said in a statement that “any assertion by the union of unfair labor practices is completely false.” 

“There have been no unfair labor practices associated with this negotiation process,” said Walter Kraft. “The parties are simply having difficulty resolving the primary financial terms of their labor contract. Moreover, the University has participated in many, many negotiating sessions, day and night, has been able to meet at the mediator’s request at all times and all hours, and has presented and exchanged proposals and counter-proposals throughout the process. Any union claims to the contrary are simply untrue.”

Kraft added that the university’s “primary focus is getting faculty back in the classroom so that our students can continue their education.

“Even a one-day disruption is significant for our students and we are committed to providing them with a full and positive academic experience, particularly as negotiations continued today with the assistance of a State-appointed mediator. The unresolved economic and health care issues at the bargaining table that caused the faculty to walk out are best resolved by continued negotiations.”

Matt Kirkpatrick, associate professor of English language and literature at EMU and chair of the EMU-AAUP negotiating team, said the strike was the result of the EMU administration’s failure to reach common ground on a new labor agreement.

“Our message to EMU students, parents and alumni is simple: EMU faculty are standing up for you and for quality education,” said Kirkpatrick. “But the EMU administration has let you down, raising their own salaries while trying to reduce our compensation, and repeatedly failing to bargain in good faith.”

Members of the Eastern Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors walked the picket line on Wednesday. | Ken Coleman

A bargaining session with state mediators was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The union stated on Wednesday that “the administration has unclean hands” due to repeated unfair labor practices in violation of Michigan law.” 

David Hecker, American Federation of Teachers Michigan president, whose organization represents hundreds of striking workers at EMU walked the picket line on Wednesday.  

“Faculty are the heart of the university,” said Hecker. “Everyone is important but the educators, the quality of the educators, is why students come here. They deserve a fair contract.” 

The striking faculty also won support from the Michigan Education Association, with  President Paula Herbart calling the administration’s posture “unconscionable.” 

“The Michigan Education Association stands in solidarity with the striking EMU-AAUP members, as well as workers everywhere who are fighting for better compensation, working conditions and professional respect,” said Herbart. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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