06/22/20 Message Regarding School of Medicine Clinicians
Latest Administration Proposal.
It is difficult to imagine that physicians- members of a greatly esteemed profession, can be transformed into threatened and exploited employees. Yet, this is the case of the clinicians on the faculty of the Wayne State University School of Medicine (SOM).
The Failures of WSUPG Leadership.
The story of the leadership of the WSU SOM is not one of unvarnished success. In fact, it is the opposite. Most medical schools of the size of ours have over 1,000 clinicians who generate an income stream for their medical schools through their provision of services to patients. At Wayne, that number currently stands at around 300. The number of faculty clinicians at Wayne has decreased substantially over the past five years with a corresponding revenue decline that was a major factor in the bankruptcy of the Wayne State University physician practice plan, UPG. The departure of the overwhelming number of the faculty clinicians in Pediatrics to the medical school at Central Michigan has only worsened this situation. During the past five years, neither the WSU SOM nor the UPG have been attractive places for clinicians to work, and they have had problems recruiting clinicians and keeping them as employees. While the WSU UPG may have emerged from bankruptcy, its shaky financial situation has not been overcome. That Dean Mark Schweitzer announced cuts in the salaries of UPG clinicians of 20% in May, 30% in June and 50% in July is not an indicator of a stable financial situation. In any organization that finds itself in such a situation: the responsibility first falls on management.
Uncertainties in the Relationship between the SOM and UPG.
The situation of the faculty clinicians in the SOM is uncertain at best under the present situation and proposed changes. These faculty members have been paid until now from two sources: the University and the UPG (or one of the other smaller practice plans). They mostly have year-to-year term contracts with the University and a separate employment contract with their practice plans. Mostly, their contracts end in September, 2020. It was the Dean’s proposal that such faculty members be terminated on that date and be employed in the future solely by their practice plans. That plan has been superseded by a newly announced plan. The average period of service for the clinical faculty is almost two decades, with the dates of first hire going as far back as the 1970s. These faculty entered academic medicine due to a commitment to scholarship, teaching and service and have served the University for many years. The Dean’s proposals erases the basis for this and transforms our clinicians from faculty colleagues into ordinary employees of a business enterprise. Although alternative proposals have been generated in the past few days, each is likely to have the same outcome if allowed to be implemented.
Within the practice plans, employees have at-will contracts under which they can be terminated for any reason, or no reason, with only 60-days notice. In addition, there is a non-compete provision whereby if the clinician leaves or is terminated by the practice plan, she/he cannot be employed in the Metropolitan Detroit area. Moreover, the benefits in health insurance and retirement provided under the practice plans are in no way comparable to those provided by the clinicians’ present University appointments.
Latest Administrative Action.
Vice Dean for Financial Affairs, Douglas Skrzyniarz has announced that the Administration would unilaterally impose a new compensation scheme for members of our clinical faculty. There is no doubt that this would constitute a change in the salaries, terms and conditions of employment for these faculty members. There was no negotiation with the Union over these changes. The Administration has been notified that implementation of these new compensation rules cannot be carried out until they are negotiated with the Union. Our present Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) does not end until March, 2021. Our notice to the Administration is attached to this message.
The University gives lip service to the idea that it operates under constraints exercised by the operation of the structures of academic governance. In the WSU School of Medicine, there are regular elections to the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, which is made up of all faculty members on at least one-half time appointments. The Senate elects the members of the Executive Committee, which is charged to: “advise the Dean on matters of policy pertaining to the functioning and organization of the School.” Article VII of the Bylaws lays out the committees of the Senate that deal with important academic governance activities, making decisions on salary increases, promotion and tenure, advising the Dean on the finances of the School through the Budget Committee, and on Curriculum, Technology, Graduate Affairs and Research. These committees are replicated in each department to carry out similar functions at that level.
Participation in such activities of academic governance is commensurate with being a faculty member. It provides responsibility and professional autonomy. If the Dean’s proposal is implemented, all of these professional activities on the part of the affected clinicians will be lost. In addition, their critical contributions to multiple activities within the broader University mission will likewise be lost. They may no longer be professors, but could become employees of the practice plan which has no structures comparable to those of academic governance that ensure participation in the formulation of the policies.
Who has power over what?
A consideration that one must always take into account when thinking about organizations is the structure of power within them. Power in the practice plans is overwhelmingly in the hands of management. The setting of the monetary value of work units (used to compensate clinicians), the administering of patient appointments, and the general management of the delivery of patient services are all in the hands of the managers. When there is a change in policies, there is no requirement that management consult with those who are most affected by them. The reality is that, while the rationale for changing the employment situation of our clinicians is that the SOM is in a financial crisis, the result is also that it further concentrates power in the hands of the Dean. If his proposal had been adopted, every clinician would be more under his personal power. He is already in a position of dominant power through his present control of the WSUPG. But, increasing one’s control over a shrinking organization may be self-defeating in the longer run.
What Solutions Are There?
Not surprisingly, our solution is to do what good unions do: organize and represent the interests of the organized vigorously. That is the intention of the Union leadership. We have filed our objection with the Administration. We are expanding our consultation with our clinical faculty members. If the Administration is not responsive to our demand to bargain we have a number of legal remedies, and we intend to employ all of those to which we need resort. The Administration is attempting unilaterally to change the salaries, terms, and conditions of employment without bargaining them with the Union as they must. We are opposing this action on behalf of the clinical faculty members we represent.
--Charles J. ParrishPresident, AAUP-AFT, Local 6075, WSU ChapterVice President-at-Large, AFT MichiganPresident, AAUP Michigan ConferenceMember-at-Large, National Council, AAUP5057 Woodward Avenue, Suite 3301Detroit, MI 48202313.577.1750