Disagreement over contract negotiations between the Ferris Faculty Association (FFA) and the university resulted in a faculty strike beginning Monday, Aug. 27.
The FFA and Ferris administration have met 10 times since May 25 to negotiate the faculty contracts that expired June 30, with the session on Sunday, Aug. 26 lasting over nine hours. Both sides were unable to come to an agreement and the 450 FFA members will not be teaching class until they do so.
Ferris Physical Science Professor and FFA President Charles Bacon announced to members in an email 8:15 p.m. Sunday that the final proposal of the day was not accepted and they would indeed be on strike the first day of the semester.
“We find this to be stupid,” Bacon said. “This shouldn’t be happening and it’s very frustrating. We take it very seriously because, truly, Ferris faculty are here for the students.”
The final proposal included a 2.75 percent salary increase, keeping the Supplemental Market Adjustment (SMA) at $300,000 and better health benefits, among other things. The SMA allocates money to faculty who are underpaid compared to national averages of their rank; According to Bacon, 249 FFA members qualify for this.
“I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for the younger faculty…it’s very difficult for young faculty with families,” Bacon said. “That’s where my passion is, to try and help them have some of the advantages that I had when I went through the ranks and devoted my life to Ferris State University.”
Ferris English Professor and FFA Vice President John Caserta said that it is President David Eisler’s “moral obligation” to provide good medical benefits for the faculty.
“The faculty are very angry that we have a president who will not negotiate and forces us to do this,” Caserta said. “We’re not happy that we cannot be in the classroom with students where we belong. But a president who really cared about his faculty and his students would not force faculty to strike.
Caserta explained that the faculty on strike are not paid while on strike and they want to be in class as much as students do.
“We’re not asking for a lot of money; what we are asking for is a fair wage,” Caserta said. “We have faculty who live paycheck to paycheck. This is really detrimental, it hurts out families, it hurts students.”
President David Eisler was unavailable for comment.
Many faculty members are upset by the fact that the university claimed to offer a 2.25 percent increase when in reality, they offered 1.5 percent plus SMA, which only applies to 55 percent of the faculty. In this offer, all faculty would receive a 1.5 percent raise, which is an entire percent lower than the 2017-2018 contract’s salary raise, according to Ferris’ Faculty Salary Survey. The offer and data were confirmed by Ferris Communications Officer Michelle Rasmussen.
“Yeah, the supplemental market adjustment…it raises faculty salaries up to where they should be,” Rasmussen said. “So, in totality, the offer that I believe was on the table was 1.5 percent salary increase per each contract year, plus the SMA, which actually puts that over 2.25 percent.”
Rasmussen expressed that the faculty are incredibly important to the education of the students, but there are limitations to the budget.
“We have to manage our finances responsibly here,” Rasmussen said. “We can’t approve of a contract that passes on the burden of that cost to our students, because that’s what would happen.”
According to a Michigan Education Association (MEA) press release on Saturday, the university president position has seen a 128 percent salary increase since 2001, while the faculty wages have increased 44 percent in the same time period.
Rasmussen declined to comment on the president’s salary increase.
Although strikes are illegal in the state of Michigan, the unfair labor practices charges filed against the Ferris administration gives the FFA legal grounds to call for a Job Action (or a strike).
“Prior to the strike vote, the FFA filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission against the university. The charges detail the university’s refusal to bargain in good faith, as well as bullying and intimidation tactics the university has engaged in,” the MEA press release stated.
FFA members emailed class lists to inform students of the situation, inviting them to join the picketing on campus that began Monday morning. Students were also assured by professors they would not be penalized for the delay in classes starting.
In an email sent to students early Monday morning, Vice President for Student Affairs Jeanine Ward-Roof said the faculty picketing should not keep students from going to classes or using university facilities. Students were told to go to class and stay for 15 minutes or sign a sign-in sheet and they will not be penalized.
Students had mixed opinions about the majority of the first day of classes being canceled. Ferris environmental biology sophomore Cole McGowen did not have any of his Monday classes in session.
“I’m a little annoyed but I’m kind of with them protesting to get what they want. I’d like to join them,” McGowen said.
Ferris pre-pharmacy junior Ali Barakat agreed with McGowen.
“It’s kind of annoying but as long as I’m not affected credit-wise, then I’m still getting my money’s worth,” Barakat said.
Caserta strongly believes that the university is a community and it does not belong to one person.
“Dave Eisler does not own this university. This university belongs to the faculty, it belongs to the students, it belongs to this community,” Caserta said. “It’s not his money. This is money that comes from student tuition and state taxes that we pay. But he refuses to give us a fair share in the negotiations.”
Deans Joseph Lipar and Lincoln Gibbs—who were a part of the University negotiating team—were not immediately available for comment.
Click here to see photos of the faculty picket.