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University of Michigan lecturers have voted to strike next week unless negotiations lead to a new contract, union leaders announced Wednesday night.

Members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, AFT-MI Local 6244, AFL-CIO union, which represents 1,700 non-tenure track faculty at UM campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint, unanimously approved the move this week, the group said in a statement.

Talks with the university are slated to continue through Sunday, but union members plan to stop working the next two days “unless there is substantial progress on LEO pay demands and other bargaining issues, including a working title change that will make it easier for departments to recruit and retain high-caliber talent into Lecturer roles,” the release read.

Their current contract expires April 20.

“We’ve been working for months to address the crisis of underpayment among the University of Michigan’s core teaching staff,” said Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the Sociology Department at UM Ann Arbor and the president of LEO. “We’ve got lecturers with children on public assistance, lecturers working two or three jobs, lecturers who are leaving the university because they can’t afford to live on their miserable salaries.”

In a statement, UM representatives said the administration “believes strongly that the collective bargaining process is effective and there is no need for the Lecturers’ Employee Organization to call for a strike. The university remains committed to bargaining in good faith and we remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached before the current contract ends April 20. A strike by LEO members has its biggest negative impact on students at a critical time near the end of the academic year.”

The school added: "A walkout April 9 and 10 by LEO members violates the terms of the current contract... There is a “no strike” clause in the contract to which LEO members agreed.
State law also prohibits labor strikes by public employees."

In describing their push to secure a more favorable contract, union members cited minimum starting salaries for lecturers lower than nearby community colleges and public schools: $27,300 at UM Flint, $28,300 at UM Dearborn and $34,500 at UM Ann Arbor.

The lecturers also teach more than half of credit hours on the Flint and Dearborn campuses and a third of credit hours in Ann Arbor, LEO officials said.

“I retired early from teaching in Detroit public schools because I thought pay and conditions would be better as a member of the teaching faculty at a top school like the University of Michigan,” said Amy Keesling, a lecturer in the College of Arts, Science and Languages at UM Dearborn, in a statement.

“I was wrong. The pay scale at the University of Michigan is not just low, it’s oppressive. The difference is that Detroit Public Schools face enormous financial challenges, while the University of Michigan has an annual cash surplus of over $500 million.”

The union bargaining team is proposing a $60,000 minimum salary for UM Ann Arbor and equivalent pay increases at other campuses.

Other issues in the contract talks include health benefits, job security, increasing diversity and addressing a review process, the union said Wednesday.

In a negotiations update posted Tuesday on the UM website, officials said the school and LEO met last week and “continued to move closer to agreement on non-economic issues in layoff, performance evaluation and appointments. The parties are closer to agreement on benefits, bereavement time and certain leave provisions, although the parties still are not in agreement on both child care subsidy and parental leave. Salary is a significant topic that continues to be negotiated.”

Last month, more than 80 percent of LEO members responding to electronic ballot voted to authorize the bargaining team and a union council to call the strike if they didn’t see significant progress on their demands being met.

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