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Michigan contract agreements beat right-to-work deadline

Wayne State University faculty and staff have voted to ratify an agreement that provides pay increases and an eight-year extension of union security rights that make it possible for members to maintain and enforce their contract.

The agreement is between the university and the Wayne State University American Association of University Professors-AFT, which represents 1,950 faculty and staff at the university. It replaces a contract that expired last July, and it runs through March 20, 2021.

The contract provides annual raises of 2.5 percent beginning in August 2013 and sets up joint labor-management committees to consider a new health insurance program and policies around online education.

"We are fortunate to have had many years of working with the administration and board of governors," says Charles Parrish, WSU AAUP-AFT president. "This contract is a result of that relationship. We believe this is a fair contract. Most importantly, tenure and academic freedom have been preserved."

Another feature of the agreement: union security. All who are represented by the AAUP-AFT chapter will pay their fair share of dues to protect the contract, a fact that is infuriating state Republican lawmakers.

A right-to-work law passed Dec. 10 and was written to apply to workers not covered by a contract when the law takes effect March 27. AFT Michigan unions have been working to negotiate contracts with boards of trustees and boards of education that will begin before the law kicks in.

On March 5, the University of Michigan and the Lecturers' Employee Organization/AFT reached a tentative agreement on a five-year contract to cover more than 1,500 nontenure-track instructors on U-M's campuses in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn.

AFT Michigan has been drawing on its decades-long foundation of fostering productive labor-management relationships to ensure productive partnerships going forward.

"Boards of education and trustees recognize that labor-management cooperation is in the best interest of their institutions," says John McDonald, an AFT vice president and president of the Henry Ford Community College Federation of Teachers in Dearborn. "They could stay idle, but they are concerned about maintaining positive relationships. When an institution is in financial trouble, cooperation between locals, trustees and the school board is what allows people in the trenches to resolve issues."

Right-wing Republicans and the organizations that back them are responding to these agreements with threats and intimidation. Lawmakers are introducing legislation to cut funding to institutions that agree. The conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy has brought a lawsuit against Michigan's Taylor School District, whose contract with employees includes a 10-year union security clause.

"They are trying to intimidate boards of education and trustees," says McDonald, "to engage them in contentious litigation. Mackinac understands it cannot legally win the argument." [Barbara McKenna]

March 12, 2013