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WMU's teaching assistants' union is the latest to begin contract talks

A small crowd of people in light winter gear stands outside a brick building. 
Several hold handmade signs. A young man on crutches is holding up a phone to interview a young woman holding a sign that says "invest in people, not real estate."
Sehvilla Mann
/
WMUK
Western Herald reporter Michael Symonds speaks with supporters of the TAU outside the Fetzer Center Monday

The TAU says it represents more than 450 WMU teaching assistants.

The Teaching Assistants’ Union at Western Michigan University is the latest to begin contract talks. They follow a big year for labor negotiations at Western. Part-time instructors agreed to a contract, though only after months of negotiations. Full-time professors and workers in AFSCME also signed agreements in 2021.

Members of the TAU rallied with supporters outside the Fetzer Center Monday afternoon as the union’s bargaining unit met with university officials inside. TAU president Thomas Fisher said, among other things, the union will fight for higher wages for TAs. Fisher said administrators have a chance to show as they sit down at the table that they value all Western instructors.

“We hope that they will rise to that opportunity and really show us that ‘Hey, we’ve been listening to you for the past several months when you’ve voiced concerns about how money is spent at Western, how COVID protocols were considered and who was involved in those discussions.’ So this is their chance to behave in line with the things that they’ve told us,” he said.

Fisher and other union leaders at Western have been critical of the Board of Trustees’ decision to give a $75,000 bonus and 1.5 percent raise to President Edward Montgomery, after cutting budgets and laying off staff across departments in the early days of the pandemic. The Trustees have defended the bonus and raise as well as Montgomery’s leadership.

Senior psychology student Sora Wachowicz said she attended the rally to support the TAs heading up many of her classes.

“TAs have done most of my education so far, like, they've been really active in teaching me. So I figured I would come out and support them,” Wachowicz said.

Timothy Bober is a part-time instructor in the anthropology department. Bober said that since the beginning of the pandemic, Western has asked teaching assistants and part-time instructors to bear unreasonable budget cuts.

“The administration saying, ‘we're poor now,’ and asking the poorest people to help them make their bottom line is so, seems so inaccurate,” Bober said.

“It's frustrating, and that's why I'm here. And I have taken a much more active role in my own union,” he added. Bober said he is the vice-president for organizing for the Professional Instructors Organization, which represents adjunct faculty.

A spokeswoman for Western Michigan University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.