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Faculty contract is a chance to embrace equity

Eastern Michigan University and its faculty are in the process of negotiating a new faculty contract. EMU’s contract with the EMU-AAUP expired on August 31. As of this writing, there is no agreement, however EMU and the EMU-AAUP continue to negotiate.

One major issue is the distribution of health care costs. EMU – like every other public institution in the State of Michigan – must observe a statutory cap on the amount of money it can spend on health care benefits for its employees. (For some reason, Lansing doesn’t want people who work in education to be too healthy.) Any costs that exceed the statutory cap get passed on to the employees. If I recall the legislation correctly, employers cannot increase worker salaries to offset increases in the employees’ portion of the plan costs.

Salary is also obviously one of the sticking points in the faculty contract negotiation. The EMU-AAUP is asking for a major increase in salary in year-one of a multi-year agreement and 4.0%-4.5% increases in subsequent years. EMU is asking for a smaller increase in the first year, and 2%-2.5% increases in subsequent years. EMU wants a five-year agreement; the EMU-AAUP seeks something shorter.

One interesting element of the university’s offer is a declining percentage increase in Years 2+ of the proposed contract. Apparently, this is common in faculty contracts at universities; economically irrational, but common. (Inflation is what it is, and it usually doesn’t decline over time. Certainly not recently anyway.)

Faculty contract should espouse equity

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of union contract negotiations; however, salary increases must be fair across the board. Equity means applying the same terms to everyone. I wrote an item last month about the inequitable treatment of salary increases for the WCC President, whose salary increased by more than 15% over three years, while the staff and faculty regularly ate increases of 1.5%-2%.

That’s not equitable. What the faculty union should aim for is agreement that whatever increase – no matter how big or small – the institution offers them should also apply to the annual increases for the institution’s leadership for the duration of the faculty contract. When the faculty get a 2% raise, the institution’s leadership gets the same 2% raise. If the President gets to negotiate his/her contract each year, then the union gets to re-open the faculty contract every year.

If this policy were put into place, not only would faculty and staff raises be more equitable, the contract negotiations would be concluded faster because there would be fewer sticking points.

After all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Photo Credit: gorfor, via Flickr