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Posted on Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 6 a.m.

Eastern Michigan University's part-time lecturers campaign for union

By Juliana Keeping

Eastern Michigan University's 450 part-time lecturers are one step closer to gaining union representation.

Union organizers filed for an election Wednesday with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the state agency that handles union elections.

If half of active adjuncts, plus one, votes "yes" in a subsequent election, all adjuncts would be recognized as part of the EMU-Federation of Teachers, which lists 98 full-time lecturers in its membership, organizers said.

A campaign has been underway at Eastern Michigan University to unionize the part-time lecturers, who are asking for better pay and benefits.

The administration will negotiate a contract in a timely manner if the employees vote to unionize, but students could end up paying for any increased costs through their tuition bills, school officials warned.

More than half of the adjuncts at EMU signed union cards indicating they want an election that would determine their right to negotiate collectively, said David Hecker, president of American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, the umbrella union for the existing lecturers' union, the EMU Federation of Teachers. An adjunct is a part-time lecturer.


Thomas Ulch, a full-time lecturer at Eastern Michigan University, chats with student Stacey Mays after a Native-American literature class. The 98-member union for full-time lecturers, the EMU Federation of Teachers, supports a campaign by EMU's part-time lecturers to join the existing union. | File photo

A spokesman for the adjuncts' 12-member organizing committee said the campaign for union membership is about gaining more respect and better standing at the university, in addition to better pay and benefits.

"Adjuncts are passed over when permanent of tenure-track positions open up," said Riyadh Bahkali, who has taught economics part time at EMU for 10 years. "They are seldom regarded as colleagues by permanent faculty. We get treated like second-class citizens."

EMU-FT negotiated its first contract in 2001 and its latest this past September. Adjuncts would negotiate a separate contract.

The 685 faculty members at EMU negotiate their contract through the American Association of University Professors.

EMU-FT organizer Greg Pratt said adjuncts pushing for the union also want an increased voice over their working conditions and regular comprehensive evaluations.

"Better notice and evaluations, those are the two primary things people teaching at EMU would like to have," Pratt said. "If you think about people at the last minute being thrown into class, who have not taught the class, it's a Herculean task. We have to think not only about the impact on the teacher, but also the students, who are paying a lot of money to learn at EMU."

Russ Larson, assistant vice president for academic human resources, said the administration will negotiate in a timely manner should the adjuncts unionize.

Asked what impact 450 additional union members would have on EMU financially, Larson said it was too early to tell, but noted any increased cost would demand more revenue - and that's likely to come from the students.

"The way we've been raising money for a while is through tuition increases," he said. "The state has not been coming through very well with financing for higher education."

The university's 3.8 percent tuition hike approved this past June was the lowest increase among Michigan's 15 public universities. In-state undergraduates at EMU pay $8,377 annually in tuition and fees. The year prior, undergraduate students experienced a 7.7-percent tuition hike.

The EMU Board of Regents approved the EMU-FT's latest three-year collective bargaining agreement in September that included 1.2 to 2 percent yearly wage increases and a hike in base pay from $27,500 to $30,500. The changes will cost EMU $517,706 over three years.

Currently, adjuncts receive no benefits and are paid per credit hour at the discretion of each department, Larson said.

Kelly Burke, president of the EMU-FT and a geography and geology lecturer, said the EMU-FT has always intended to include adjuncts.

"Our constitution and bylaws have always held that we will work to bring into the collective bargaining unit all of the EMU lecturers as quickly as possible, Burke said. "We had envisioned incorporating everyone who is not a tenure-track faculty member."

Hecker, the AFT-Michigan president, said the union represents adjuncts at Wayne State, the University of Michigan, Western Michigan University and Michigan State University. A campaign to organize adjuncts is underway at Central Michigan University.

Juliana Keeping covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


Sean Eldon

Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 7:14 p.m.

I am also a recent graduate of EMU. Throughout my college career, I was fortunate to have outstanding teachers, both professors and lecturers alike. Many of my favorite teachers were, in fact, part-time lecturers. They were a well-educated, intelligent, and passionate group of educators. And they were paid a pittance for their work. I fully support them in their efforts to unionize, and I hope it is the first step in earning them better pay, better benefits, and greater respect in the community. I am shocked that some people would suggest that lecturers are being greedy. And I am saddened that some posters don't see the short-sightedness in their own statements.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 5:54 p.m.

As a recent graduate of a Master's program at EMU, I have sympathy for their lecturers. Many of my classmates were desperate for jobs and accepted part-time positions like these, and their work conditions were nothing short of torturous. I would encourage any reader that disagrees with protections like this to: a) enroll in a college class and see first-hand what the work conditions for part-time lecturers are like or b) talk to a real, live person in this position and hear what he/she has to say before making draconian recommendations. I know that this may be an unrealistic wish given the tendencies of posters to pontificate about the evils of educators, but it would be nice to think that adults were capable of empathy every once in a while.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 3:14 p.m.

There may be problems that need to be addressed, but joining a corrupt national union is just replacing one problem for a worse one. What's the old saying? "Out of the frying pan, into the FIRE!" The University should just negotiate this in good faith. This will avoid major problems dealing with a union.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 2:10 p.m.

I don't think people realize how poorly most adjunct faculty are paid and treated. It is not uncommon for an adjunct to make less than $2500 for a three credit, semester-length course. It is also not uncommon for adjuncts to have their courses pulled from them at the last minute - literally the day before classes begin sometimes - or to have their assignments changed to something different at the last minute, even after they have spent countless hours preparing for their original course assignments. When that happens, adjuncts are not paid for the time they already put into developing and preparing for their courses. Adjuncts are employed on a semester-by-semester basis so they are potentially out of a job every four months. At EMU adjuncts currently receive no benefits. They can teach the SAME LOAD as tenure-track faculty (for a fraction of the salary), and get no health care, no access to a retirement account (let alone any matching money from the University), no tenure, no job protection, nothing. They also have no voice in any decisions about how the university or their own departments operate. This is not a system anyone should feel comfortable perpetuating. The reason adjuncts are organizing at EMU and on other campuses is because there are problems that need to be addressed. The only way those problems will get any attention at all from university administrators is if the adjuncts have a union to represent them.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 9:09 a.m.

We are in a new era and people keep thinking that the good times will come back. They are gone for a long time. The problem we have is sustainability. Whether its the escalating costs of health care, government pension plans or a college education, the model is broken. We need to rethink how we do everything and everyone needs to share in the pain. Those in the private sector have a better understanding of this as our health care costs have increased, elimination of 401K match and pay cuts. It's time those in the public sector get with the program because the day is coming when a complete overhaul of their benefits and pension plan will happen.

The Picker

Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 8:35 a.m.

10% in 2 years, must be nice. Maybe the taxpayers need a union to bully the administration into getting our way!!!!


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 7:46 a.m.

The Tech-Bubble burst in the 1990s and many millionaires became paupers overnight. The Housing-Bubble burst a couple of years ago, and the economy is still reeling from that. Soon the College-Bubble is going to burst and it wont be pretty for the Ypsi-Arbor area. Colleges are flush with cash from the recent influx of students and they are spending like there is no tomorrow. EMU is building a sports complex, WCC is building a parking structure, and U of M bought most of the empty Pfizer buildings. When the economy is as bad as it is you have to ask yourself where all of these college students coming from, and the answer is pretty simple. People cant find jobs so they go to college to wait-out the bad economy. The problem with record college enrollment is going to be a record number of graduates that will be unable to find jobs. If they cant find jobs, they will default on their student loans in record numbers. Then what? My guess is that student loans will become difficult to get and the colleges will suffer. Colleges will shutter buildings, lay off teachers, and wish they had not given to union demands.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 7:21 a.m.

In this economy that is just what we need more Unions. I suggest the University reject this and look for different lecturers. It likely will not happen as no President in recent years has had any "hair". I further suggest that current Professors take a "pay cut" and that all tenure be abolished! The colleges were built for the students to get an eduction not to protect so liberal Professors. I went to EMU, and graduated in four years. Get real Unionize the part timers in this Economy, I say Cut the PAY!