Disagreement over contract negotiations between the Ferris Faculty Association (FFA) and the university resulted in a faculty strike Monday, Aug. 27.
A temporary restraining order and injunction filed by the university Monday afternoon required FFA members to end their strike and return to classes Tuesday, Aug. 28. Faculty are to work as contract negotiations continue. The Mecosta County Circuit court confirmed that the judge on the case was Hon. Scott Hill-Kennedy, who was the Assistant General Counsel at Ferris from 1991-93 and the Interim President from May 10 to July 6 in 2003.
The FFA and Ferris administration have met 12 times since May 25 to negotiate the faculty contracts that expired June 30. The last meeting occurred Wednesday, Aug. 29, and still no contract agreement was reached. FFA members continued to picket all week around their class schedules. According to Ferris Physical Science Professor and FFA President Charles Bacon, the Associate Deans on the university negotiations team are not allowed to speak; only the attorney hired, James Green, speaks and “he is doing whatever Dr. Eisler wants him to do.” Bacon said President David Eisler was not present at the last negotiation meeting.
“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 most recent proposal by the FFA included a three-year contract, 2.75 percent salary increase each year,
keeping the Supplemental Market Adjustment (SMA) at $300,000 and increased health benefits, among other items. 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.
The university’s last offer was a five-year contract with a 2.25 percent salary increase for three years and 2.50 percent increase for the following two. This comes without renewing the SMA fund. Bacon said now the university has put 2.25 percent on the table but it is really just their original 1.5 percent plus the 0.75 percent by getting rid of SMA.
“So, it’s taking money from your right pocket and putting it in your left pocket and saying ‘you have more money now.’ It’s smoke and mirrors,” Bacon said. According to Bacon, the faculty response to the latest offer is 92 percent against the deal and 8 percent for it.
Bacon said with the half million dollars Eisler spent on an outside lawyer, the faculty could have been given a 2.7 percent raise and still have kept the SMA.
Ferris English Professor and FFA Vice President John Caserta said that it is 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 asking for a lot of money; what we are asking for is a fair wage. We have faculty who live paycheck to paycheck. This is really detrimental, it hurts our families, it hurts students.”
Eisler was unavailable for comment and canceled his State of the University address on Founders’ Day Thursday, Aug. 30. The statement posted said it was canceled “to ensure everyone can enjoy Founders’ Day.” FFA members picketed in the North Quad, where Founders’ Day activities were held, many of them holding signs that said “Eisler Resign.”
“Personally, it’s kind of a sad situation,” Bacon said. “This is my 35th year. I’m dedicated to Ferris State University, dedicated to the students. And we want to be teaching in our classes and working as hard as we have been. President Eisler doesn’t even have the courage to come and talk to us. He canceled his speech.”
Ferris Manufacturing Engineering Technology Professor and former FFA President Jim Rumpf was among those picketing on Founders’ Day. “If I had known when I started working here that now I would be treated like this, I don’t know that I would have come to work here,” Rumpf said.
Ferris Communications Officer Michelle 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.”
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.”