Ferris State tenured faculty ordered back to work

The university library at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.

A motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Ferris Faculty Association was granted Monday after dozens of Ferris State University faculty members took to a picket line after tenured professors went on strike for the first day of fall classes.

The ruling ordered the members back to work Tuesday. Negotiations were set to continue Wednesday.

“We are pleased that faculty will be returning to the classroom,” said David Eisler, president of Ferris State University. “Moving forward, our goal remains to reach a contract agreement that not only helps faculty but also keeps tuition affordable for the students we serve.”

Charles Bacon, president of the Ferris Faculty Association, said the decision was not unexpected and some tenured teachers still planned "informational" pickets when in the classroom Tuesday.

Bacon, whose group represents 450 full-time faculty, said he hoped talks would be productive but “we haven’t gotten any movement since June.”

The union said it was striking after a last-minute negotiating session Sunday failed to produce a settlement.

On Monday, Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, said in a statement that she had walked the picket line with striking professors.

"Decisions to take any job action aren't made lightly," Herbart said. "But the university's refusal to negotiate in good faith has a negative impact on the livelihood of faculty members and, ultimately, the quality of education of Ferris State's students."

Despite a nine-hour negotiating session Sunday, the two sides failed to get any closer to an agreement, Bacon said.

The school said its latest proposal offered pay hikes of 2.25 percent each year for five years, along with increased contributions toward health insurance each year. That's up from the annual pay hikes of 1.5 percent per year, which the university said it offered in a statement issued Friday. 

On Saturday night, the faculty association vote was "nearly unanimous" to go on strike, said Bacon. The contract expired June 30. 

The sides have been to the negotiating table 10 times, four of them with a mediator. 

"We are negotiating during a time of reduced enrollment," said university spokeswoman Michelle Rasmussen. "When you have reduced enrollment, you have reduced tuition revenues. We also have a shared concern about student debt. We have a responsibility to manage our finances and ensure we are not transferring costs onto our students and burdening them with long-term debt."

As of last fall, Ferris State had just shy of 14,000 students.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.