Eastern Michigan University faculty votes to strike beginning Wednesday

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Eastern Michigan's faculty union on Tuesday night voted to strike, beginning Wednesday, after contract negotiations failed to produce a pact.

"It’s truly unfortunate that the EMU administration’s failure at the bargaining table will cause delay and disruption for our students,” said Mohamed El-Sayed, EMU professor and president of the union, in a news release Tuesday night.

The release said the strike was approved by 91% of the vote. The faculty contract expired Aug. 31; classes began Aug. 29.

Talks were scheduled to resume Wednesday after breaking off over the weekend. Both sides said they would be at the bargaining table Wednesday morning.

“We will not be in our classrooms tomorrow, but our negotiating team will be at the bargaining table," El-Sayed said. "We’re looking for solutions that support our students and set the stage for quality education at EMU for the long term.”

The university asked students to report to their scheduled classes Wednesday and wait at least 15 minutes to determine if their professors will be teaching.

“Students may also contact their instructors in advance to determine whether classes will be taking place," said university spokesperson Walter Kraft.

The faculty's decision to strike will adversely affect the students, Kraft said in a release.

“It is unfortunate that rather than continue to follow the mediator’s path, with active negotiations still underway, the faculty union is asking its members to walk out and disrupt students’ education just seven days into the semester," Kraft said.

Sticking points are salary increases and health care costs, the union and university have said. 

The administration was "committed to continuing to work with the union and will be available to meet, even if they go on strike," Kraft said before the vote. "Keeping classrooms operating for our students is a priority."

On Sunday,  the university said a strike would be illegal. It is illegal for most public employees to strike in Michigan under the 1947 Public Employment Relations Act. 

Professors will picket tomorrow rather than teaching their fall classes, said union spokesperson Roger Kerson.

The American Association of University Professors union's previous contract covered over 500 tenure and tenure-track professors. and faculty has been working without a contract for nearly a week.

The union scheduled Tuesday's strike vote after meeting with the administration for negotiations on Saturday and Sunday. The EMU-AAUP negotiating team called on the administration to continue negotiating on Monday and Tuesday, the union said Tuesday before the vote. 

Bargaining sessions are scheduled by a state-appointed mediator; the university administration did not receive a request to schedule earlier meetings, Kraft said.

Efforts continued on "both sides to find common ground," Kraft said.

Full-time EMU faculty earned $101,300 on average between 2021 and 2022, including salary and health care benefits. Associate professors made $85,600 and assistant professors made $74,000, according to documents released by the administration Monday.

Faculty accounts for 49% of EMU's health care costs and makes up 36% of the participants in the university-sponsored health care plans, the administration said Monday.

The EMU-AAUP rejected the university's most recent offer and called for larger pay increases to offset rising health care costs.

"The university faces rising costs in health care, and we cannot simply pass those increased expenses along to our students whose tuition covers the majority of our operations," Rhonda Longworth, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs, said last week.

The EMU-AAUP's most recent strike was in 2006, one of five times the union has gone on strike since forming in the 1970s, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Email: hmackay@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @hmackayDN