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UM lecturers fight for higher, equal pay

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Dearborn — Lecturers at the University of Michigan are calling on school officials to raise their wages, saying they have been underpaid for years and threaten to go on strike if the school rejects their request.

The Lecturers’ Employee Organization — which represents 1,700 non-tenure lecturers at the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses — says it has been bargaining for a new contract with the university since October, and its contract expires May 29.

The union members gathered at the Dearborn campus on Thursday to display unity before going to the University of Michigan Board of Regents’ meeting to speak out.

Union leaders say many lecturers on all three campuses are not making enough to support a family and have to work additional jobs for more income. They also want equal pay rates at all three campuses. Ann Arbor lecturers are paid higher salaries.

The minimum starting salary for a full-time lecturer is $27,300 at the Flint campus, $28,300 in Dearborn and $34,500 in Ann Arbor. Lecturers say they would like to make at least $50,000 a year regardless of campus location.

Ian Robinson, president of the union and lecturer at the Ann Arbor campus, says he wants to see equal, annual pay raises for lecturers on all three campuses. The low pay has led to high turnover —approximately 32 percent for those in entry positions — at all three campuses, union officials say.

“Our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions,” Robinson said. “And when we’re not being paid commensurate with the contributions we are making and the qualifications we have, it means that our students are not getting as good of an education as they can.”

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said contract negotiations are expected to continue Friday.

“The university is committed to continued bargaining in good faith,” Fitzgerald said in an email.

According to the university, its latest proposal to the union would increase the minimum salaries by 30 percent over three years with an increase of $10,500 in Ann Arbor and $8,700 in Flint and Dearborn.

“That would raise the minimum annual salary in the first year to $43,000 in Ann Arbor, $35,000 in Dearborn and $34,000 in Flint,” the university said on its website. “In year three of the contract, the minimums would increase to $45,000 in Ann Arbor, $37,000 in Dearborn and $36,000 in Flint.”

Union leaders say that proposal would still leave hundreds of lecturers making below the basic budget needs to support a family of four, which is about $51,000 in Genesee County and $62,000 in Wayne County, according to the United Way. The basic budget need for a family of four in Washtenaw County is at least $63,000.

Patricia Hartshorn, a lecturer in the Department of Natural Sciences at the Dearborn campus, said many lecturers have master’s and doctorate degrees yet still make less than some community college teachers.

“We have been exploited ever since lecturers started teaching at universities,” Hartshorn said. “It’s a universal problem, and we’ve decided that enough is enough, and we are trying to get a landmark contract.”

Hartshorn said lecturers will consider going on strike if they don’t reach a contract deal by this summer.

“They can’t get away with it,” Hartshorn said. “It’s been a dirty secret of universities and higher education for years.”

The Lecturers’ Employee Organization has drawn the support of student governments on the Flint and Dearborn campuses. Both campus groups passed a resolution in support of the union’s fight for higher pay.

Eucharia Ganda, a senior at the University of Michigan-Flint and student government president, said underpaying lecturers could discourage students who want to pursue a master’s or doctorate degrees.

“Our parents pay for our education,” Ganda said. “So where is our tuition money going if they (lecturers) are being paid unfairly?”

Vivien Adams, a junior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and student government president, agreed.

“How can people putting in the work not be paid the same amount with the same qualifications,” Adams said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

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