Detroit — Despite a legislative proposal to cut funding to educational institutions that sign off on labor contracts before the state's right-to-work law takes effect next week, the Wayne State University Board of Governors on Wednesday approved an eight-year labor pact with its faculty union.
Approval of the contract ended eight months of negotiating at WSU that was initially highlighted by a struggle between the administration and union over a proposal the rank and file regarded as an effort to ban faculty tenure.
When an agreement was reached recently, a new battle erupted, with the university and union officials standing in solidarity as Republican lawmakers balked over the lengthy contract. The GOP legislators demanded an explanation and proposed slashing university appropriations by millions for schools skirting right to work.
The right-to-work law, approved in December, takes effect next Thursday and bans unions from requiring employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.
"This contract started out tough. It's been rough even before anyone heard of right to work," said board Chairwoman Debbie Dingell. "It was a true negotiation and both sides have given significantly."
Casting opposing votes were two of the eight board members, David Nicholson and Diane Dunaskiss, both Republicans. Dunaskiss said before the vote that she looked at the cost of the contract, enrollment, state aid and other factors.
"It comes down to my fiduciary responsibility," Dunaskiss said.
WSU's contract, which covers 1,950 faculty members, was approved during the board of governors regular meeting.
It includes a 1.375 percent across-the-board raise in August and a 1.375 percent merit pay option. Each subsequent year will include a raise of 1.25 percent across the board and a 1.25 percent merit pay option.
The contract also states raises may be canceled if the university is in serious financial trouble during three of the last five years of the agreement.
Negotiation between the administration and the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers, WSU chapter, began last June, one month before the union's contract expired July 31.
Bargaining heated up soon after over tenure language, putting the university in the national spotlight.
The two sides reached consensus on the issue, and other issues, in late February and the union ratified the contract in early March.
Soon after, House Republicans asked WSU administrators and union leaders to explain the contract, the union's longest, before a legislative committee.
Last week, WSU President Allan Gilmour testified before lawmakers about the need for state appropriations and defended the contract agreement. He said the deal was good for the university, students and faculty since it provided stability so the university could focus on important issues such as teaching, research and economic development.
On Tuesday, House Republicans proposed to cut legislative funding by 15 percent to universities and community colleges that ratify union contracts between Dec. 10, 2012, the day before Snyder signed Michigan's right-to-work law, and March 28, when the law takes effect.
Lawmakers also are proposing to withhold up to $100 per student in performance grants for K-12 school districts that skirt the law.
Other institutions that could be affected include the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and Macomb Community College, which recently approved labor contracts for bargaining units.
Universities will have to raise fees or tuition to offset any legislative cuts, said Frank A. Cusumano Jr., a member of the Macomb Community College Board of Trustees.
"They are burdening the students who already have enough debt," Cusumano said.
Lawmakers in the Senate still need to vote on the House Republican proposals.
In addition, Gov. Rick Snyder has not endorsed or opposed the contract sanctions yet, saying Wednesday he's"just watching that situation at this point."
"I'm not jumping into their actions at this point," Snyder said. "The way I view it is, it's a fair question to ask if there's no substance in a contract. But if people (have) fairly bargained and got real benefits in negotiating at an arm'slength basis, that's just part of the negotiation process."
Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.