The Pamphlet Police at Wayne State University

For the past few weeks, I have been watching the HBO series “John Adams.” I’m a history buff, who narrowly escaped enrolling in a Ph.D. program in history. I recently returned from a conference in Philadelphia, one of my favorite cities. I do the same thing every time I go to Philly. I take the bus down to Fourth and Walnut, and just wander around the neighborhood near Penn’s Landing. Wander down the right street (I am not going to tell you which; you should find it yourselves), and you will look up to see a blue historical marker that tells you you’re standing on the spot where the American Revolution began. It’s the print shop where Thomas Paine published his pamphlet, “Common Sense.” The pamphlet sold 100,000 copies, and played a crucial part in rallying support for the break with England.

The distribution of pamphlets to raise awareness about issues and gain support has a long and distinguished history in our country.

At Wayne State University, the part-timers recently formed a union. I wrote about their contract negotiations in an earlier post. On April 10th, journalist Bob Woodward gave a speech at Wayne State University concerning secrecy in the American government, and the war in Iraq. Outside the building where Woodward was speaking, members of the Wayne State University’s part-time faculty union distributed information about the group’s struggle to bargain job security in their first contract with the administration.

According to a press release by Wayne State union officials, those distributing the information sheets were threatened with arrest by members of the Wayne State Police force. On WSU Police web site, this is how their “service” is described, “The Wayne State University Police Department is committed to providing our students, staff, faculty, visitors and guests with prompt, courteous and professional police services.” There was obviously a failure to in this particular instance to treat the pamphleteers respectfully.

The union is calling for help pressuring the institution’s president, Dr. Irvin D. Reid, to bargain a first contract. Unfortunately, Reid announced his retirement on September 26, 2007, and the Board of Governors is in the process of seeking a new leader for the institution. It’s quite clear from the pace at which bargaining has progressed thus far, administrators have no intention of bargaining a first contract before Reid’s replacement is hired. Reid doesn’t want to saddle his successor with a union contract the candidate didn’t have a hand in negotiating. It’s a classic move, but an unfortunate legacy Reid is choosing to leave behind.

As for the Police, the officers involved acted stupidly, to be sure, and the Chief of Police, Mr. Anthony Holt, owes the union members, whom his officers threatened, and who are Wayne State faculty, a prompt apology. Further, Wayne State officials should make it quite clear they will not interfere with the union’s efforts to distribute information to the faculty, staff and students at the college. Send a message in support of Wayne State’s part-time faculty union members to Chief Holt by clicking here.

Dr. Irvin Reid followed in the footsteps of Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, who leads the University of Michigan, when he recognized the Wayne State part-timers’ union promptly. Dr. Coleman allowed the lecturers’ union on the three campuses of the University of Michigan to form quickly, and recognized the group’s right to bargain on behalf of Michigan’s 1,200 lecturers very promptly. She did not, however, roll over and play dead when LEO bargained its first contract. Michigan’s negotiators worked very diligently to give up as little as possible. LEO President Bonnie Halloran came away with an excellent first contract, but the union also threatened to strike, and used financial data concerning lecturer pay quite cleverly to embarrass university officials. Parking lot attendants at Michigan were earning more than some lecturers.

The union leaders at Wayne State should count their lucky stars that Wayne State’s president didn’t fight the union. Union leaders need to recognize that officials aren’t stalling, but rather following a very predictable course in waiting for their new president to be appointed. After the new president is in place, union officials should expect to bargain aggressively–they will have had plenty of time to gather sample contracts, financial data on the university’s budget, prepare press releases, and consolidate their own membership.

If Wayne State’s new president won’t form a team that bargains in good faith and at a steady pace (this does not mean Wayne State will give the union everything it wants in the first contract), I pray Wayne State’s part-timers will strike the middle of the Fall 2008 term, and that AFT president, McElroy, will come with a $1 million dollar check from AFT’s $25 million dollar Solidarity Fund, and together with AFT Michigan president David Hecker, will walk the picket line with them. I hope Mr. McElroy will call on his colleague John Sweeney at the AFL-CIO, with which the AFT is affiliated, and ask AFL-CIO affiliate members to respect the picket line at Wayne State.

If AFT is serious about organizing part-time faculty, and expects new locals to be able to bargain good contracts for themselves, AFT officials in Washington are going to have to show some serious support to the locals that affiliate with the union. Anyone interested in an excellent example of how national union support of part-time faculty affiliates is done, should read this, look north, to the recently settled strike at Wilfrid Laurier University, and listen to my Podcast interview with WLUFA President Dr. Judy Bates.

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