EMU faculty, administration reach tentative contract agreement, ending strike

Classes resumed at Eastern Michigan University Monday morning after the university's faculty union and the administration reached a tentative contract agreement late Sunday, ending a five-day strike.

EMU's American Association of University Professors had been on strike since Wednesday following weeks of unsuccessful contract negotiations. The union covers over 500 tenure and tenure-track professors. The previous contract expired Aug. 31.

"After three days on strike and four days on the picket line, we’ve got a deal," Matt Kirkpatrick, associate professor of English language and literature at EMU and chair of the EMU-AAUP negotiating team, said in a Monday statement. "This is an important victory for our members — and most importantly for our students.

"We took a stand to maintain and strengthen quality education at EMU, and this agreement moves us forward," Kirkpatrick added. "This was a challenging set of negotiations. Our goal now is to work together, all across the campus, to deliver the best possible options and opportunities for EMU students."

He said details of the proposed new contract will be discussed at an upcoming EMU-AAUP union meeting, where members will vote on ratification of the tentative agreement. 

Salary increases and health care costs were key issues throughout negotiations, the union and administration have said.

The administration could not provide details about the new contract agreement Monday. 

Eunice Jeffries, chairwoman of the university's Board of Regents, welcomed the news of a tentative contract and said she was pleased students would be able to resume their educational experience. 

"This is indeed a good day for Eastern Michigan University students and our campus community," Jeffries said in a Monday statement. "I congratulate and thank the bargaining teams from the faculty union and the administration for all the hard work, dedication and focus to reach a tentative agreement late last night after marathon bargaining over the weekend. Working through differences together makes for a stronger Eastern Michigan University.

During the strike, the administration sought a temporary restraining order and injunction to get professors back into classrooms. Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Carol Kuhnke last Friday denied the administration's request; a hearing had been scheduled for this Friday.

"Solidarity works," said Mohamed El-Sayed, professor of engineering at EMU and president of EMU-AAUP. "I’ll tell you, we were just overwhelmed by the loud and proud support we’ve received this week, from students, parents, alumni and our AAUP and AFT colleagues from all across the country."

EMU President James Smith praised the negotiating teams for both sides.

"Credit goes to the bargaining teams from the faculty union and the administration who were determined to find solutions to highly complex issues on a number of fronts," Smith said in a statement Monday. "Negotiations of this nature are never easy, and sometimes finding common ground is highly challenging.

"We're grateful to our faculty partners across the university," he added. "Most importantly is the resolution of this for our students. They want to be back to a full schedule of classes and we're pleased things can now return to a more normalized setting for them."

hmackay@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @hmackayDN