Judge denies request to force EMU faculty union back to the classroom

Eastern Michigan University biology professor of 28 years Bob Winning, 61, of Ypsilanti, grabs a strike sign as they walked up and down the sidewalk in front of Welch Hall, the school's administration building on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, after they voted on Tuesday night to strike. The 500 professors that are part of the EMU American Association of University Professors are striking for more pay and to not have their health care raised.

A Washtenaw County Circuit judge has denied a request for a temporary order to send striking Eastern Michigan University faculty back to the classroom.

Judge Carole Kuhnke on Friday also set a hearing for 9 a.m. Sept. 16 to decide whether to permanently order faculty to return while the union and administration continue contract negotiations.

"Having reviewed and considered the Motion, at this time the Court is not persuaded that it “clearly appears from specific facts shown by affidavit or by a verified complaint that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the applicant from the delay required to effect notice or from the risk that notice will itself precipitate adverse action before an order can be issued," Kuhnke wrote in her order.

The more than 500 faculty who make up the union went on strike Wednesday as talks between the two sides stalled over differences on salaries and how much faculty should pay toward health insurance.

The union celebrated the order.

“The EMU Administration’s repeated unfair labor practices and harsh demands for astronomical increases in our health care costs are what caused this strike in the first place,” Mohamed El-Sayed, professor of engineering at EMU and president of EMU-AAUP, said in a statement. “Now that their unsupported claim for a temporary restraining order to force EMU faculty back to work has failed, it’s time to focus on good faith negotiations so we can reach a fair agreement that supports our students.”

The administration said it wants to see professors back teaching.

“Our primary focus has and continues to be getting faculty back in the classroom so that our students can continue their education,” EMU spokesman Walter Kraft said in a statement. “The disruption to our students has already been significant. Meanwhile, negotiations have been underway under the guidance and support of an independent State-appointed mediator, with a State-appointed fact finder soon to be involved as well. These processes, designed to find common ground in labor disputes, should be allowed to play out."

Eastern's administration filed suit in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, alleging the strike was illegal under Michigan law, which bans public employees from striking.

It's an argument that Central Michigan University made in 2011 when its professors went on strike. A judge then sided with the university and sent the faculty back to work while negotiations continued.

In its filing, the administration said the strike will cause "irreparable injury" to Eastern, its students, non-faculty employees and the public.

The outcomes, Eastern officials said in the filings, are "not trivial, inconsequential, or speculative, but are irreparable injuries which will prevent it from accomplishing its essential functions and will substantially adversely impact others, in particular EMU's students."

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In its response, the union argued it was allowed to strike because the administration committed a variety of unfair labor practices, including refusing to meet and arguing about where meetings should be held.

The two sides last negotiated a full agreement in 2015. That contract ran until 2019, when both sides agreed to extend it until 2021. In 2021, in the heart of the pandemic, they decided to push the expiration back another year. The contract expired at the end of August.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or djesse@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Judge denies request to force EMU faculty union back to the classroom