The first 25 years

On March 26, 1974, the Michigan State University Employees’ Association was recognized as the bargaining agent for clerical employees and technicians at MSU. And life at the University hasn’t been the same since!

In mid 1968 a small group of CTs who were dissatisfied with the treatment they’d received from the University began meeting to build an organization to bargain for wages and working conditions. By September 1969, the group had garnered enough support to adopt bylaws and elect officers. The MSU Employee’s Association was officially born on September 17, 1974.

In July 1972, a letter from Keith Groty informed CTs that they would no longer receive their annual $60 “merit” raises that year. Outrage over this decision convinced most CTs that they needed representation, and hundreds rushed to sign membership cards. (And we would personally like to thank Keith for his contribution to our beginnings.)

Two groups began organizing to represent the membership: those who wanted the independent MSUEA and those who supported affiliation with AFSCME. After a 17-month debate by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, MSUEA was officially certified as the bargaining representative for MSU’s clerical and technical employees on March 24, 1974, and the MSUEA Executive Board plunged into its first task: negotiating a contract.

Hiring Harold Schmidt as chief negotiator and labor consultant, the Board began three months of bargaining with limited money, no way to communicate with its membership, and little but determination to better the wages and working conditions of CTs. It became clear that the organization still had two factions: pro-labor feminists and those who were wary of or hostile to the idea of traditional unions. Both groups worked hard to integrate their diverse opinions into one stable unit, something that would be increasingly necessary through the years.

MSUEA came out of its bargaining with an excellent first contract, one that not only provided substantial raises and benefit increases for its members, but one that provided a fully developed grievance procedure ending in binding arbitration, a good layoff mechanism, a union shop that would secure its financial concerns, and the provision for a classification system. Over the next two years, a joint MSUEA/MSU Classification Committee developed 125 written descriptions, the number of grade levels for CTs was increased, and an orderly procedure for examining reclassification requests was established.

From these beginnings, the MSUEA quickly grew and flourished. In 1975, the Contingency Fund was established, and the next year the union sponsored the first statewide conference of representatives from Michigan’s 12 public colleges and universities. Becoming increasingly more insistent that CTs be recognized as full-fledged members of the University community, the MSUEA Board engaged MSU officials and Trustees on numerous occasions and petitioned the state legislature to make us a priority line item in MSU’s budget.

1978 saw an increased militancy among the membership and leadership of the organization. That was the first year that informational picketing was used as a tactic, the first 1000+ CTs attended a membership meeting, the first time a vote was taken to use monies from the Contingency Fund, and the first time the membership looked toward possible labor action by establishing an Emergency Defense Committee. By this time, the CT News had expanded from a two-page informational sheet to a six-to-eight page call to action! All of these activities were to combat an increasingly hostile management that forced a two and one-half day layoff of all MSU employees, that tried to obtain concessions from us and other bargaining units, and that forced us to use mediation and fact finding as well as filing numerous unfair labor practice charges to secure and maintain workplace stability for our members.

Over the next dozen years, CTs were to grow into full-fledged union members, and they showed this in their support for the organization that bargained for them.  They agreed to double their dues so that there would be enough money for expanded operating costs as well as donating to a flourishing Contingency Fund that now totals more than $3.5 million. They acknowledged their growth by changing the name of their organization from the MSU Employees’ Association to the Clerical-Technical Union, a public statement of how far their thinking had come since the body’s inception in 1974. They withstood an attempted raid from the United Auto Workers. They became part of the Coalition of Labor Organizations at MSU and entered into coalition bargaining over health care. And, in 1988, they took the biggest step of all; they voted for and participated in a two-week strike because the University would not implement the results of a classification study that raised the levels of over 2/3 of the bargaining unit.

To paraphrase Virginia Slims commercials, the CTU has come a long way in its first 25 years of existence, baby.  MSU’s clerical and technical employees have proven that a strong, independent, predominantly female union could not only survive, but could become a leader in the fight for dignity, equality, and economic security.

And we’re not through yet. As we enter our next 25 years of existence, the CTU vows to keep the needs of its members in the forefront of its activities and to face the 21st century with confidence borne from the knowledge that collectively we have the strength to prevail.  Our solidarity makes us strong!