The bargaining teams representing the United Faculty of Florida and the FIU Board of Trustees met for the second time on Friday, June 4, at the Kovens Center at the Biscayne Bay Campus. There is both good news and bad news to report.
On the good news side, we were able to agree on dates for four upcoming bargaining sessions between now and mid-July: June 28, June 30, July 2, and July 16. However, this was not because the BOT’s team became more willing to accommodate the teaching schedules of the UFF team. Rather it was because June 28, 30, and July 2 fall during the week between Summer A and Summer B, when we are not required to be in class. But at least with four 8-hour sessions planned, we have some hopes of finally being able to make significant progress toward an agreement.
As to the rest of the good news, we were able to reach agreement on three relatively minor, technical, and non-controversial articles from the previous collective bargaining agreement—Article 26: Payroll Deduction, Article 29: Severability, and Article 31: Totality of Agreement. (The previous collective bargaining agreement is available at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargain.html.) These three articles had been chosen precisely because they seemed easy to agree to and would hopefully build up some good feelings and positive momentum.
In that same spirit, we proposed that we take up Article 6: Nondiscrimination, and that we change it by adding “sexual orientation” to the already included categories of “race, color, sex, religious creed, national origin, age, veteran status, disability, political affiliation”, and union activity. We thought that this would be non-controversial, since we knew that President Maidique took a public position opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation just two years ago when opponents proposed repealing the Miami-Dade Human Rights Ordinance.
So here begins the bad news: Rather than accepting our addition to the Nondiscrimination article, the BOT’s team proposed eliminating that article from the agreement altogether!
If adopted, this would constitute an enormous setback to the faculty’s ability to defend ourselves against discrimination based on any of the criteria listed above. Once a collective bargaining agreement is reached, it becomes a legal document, enforceable by law. In addition, the grievance procedure becomes the first line of defense against discriminatory actions by deans or other supervisors. The grievance process provides a forum where faculty who believe they have been the victims of illegal discrimination can, with the representation of their union, seek a fair resolution of these important issues without taking a case to court or to an outside agency.
When we expressed our astonishment at their position, they said we shouldn’t worry since it was university policy not to discriminate, and it was against the law to do so as well. We pointed out that university policies change, and so do the laws; we preferred to be protected by a legally binding and enforceable agreement.
They argued that the university has an Equal Employment Opportunity office to protect us. We pointed out that the director of that office becomes the spokesperson for the university’s position against the faculty member if a case is taken outside the university. Not only does this seem a conflict of interest, but it doesn’t give us great confidence in the process.
They argued that with laws against discrimination in place, all a faculty member who felt discriminated against needed to do was to hire a lawyer and sue the university. We responded that most faculty are not in a position to comfortably do that. Instead, faculty need a nondiscrimination article and a grievance procedure—which can be taken beyond the university to arbitration, if necessary—to enforce it. The issue was left unresolved.
What is becoming clear is that the BOT’s team is taking a hard-line, anti-union, management-prerogative position that the collective bargaining agreement should be a stripped-down, bare-bones, minimalist document which eliminates any overlap with current university policy or current law. That’s why they want to eliminate any reference to collegial governance in the agreement, and to substitute only that "members of the bargaining unit will ... accept and execute all lawful instructions given to them." (See my first bargaining report at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.president.html at the UFF-FIU website, where all bargaining reports will be archived.)
That’s why they want to eliminate all references to nondiscrimination, so they don’t have to be bothered by faculty filing grievances alleging discrimination—after all, isn’t it against university policy? This is a major attack on faculty rights and a threat to all of us.
What kind of agreement we end up with depends on a lot more than just the good arguments the UFF bargaining team makes in negotiating sessions. We will get a good agreement only if the faculty makes clear it will not settle for less. Now that we are bargaining locally, membership in the union is a whole lot more important than it ever was before. You can see that the stakes are very high. Membership in the union sends the signal that you support the UFF bargaining team, demand a fair agreement, and are willing to back up that support with the financial sacrifice that gives the union strength.
If you are not a member, please join to show your support. If you are a member, please explain the stakes to your colleagues. The outcome of these initial local negotiations will set precedents for years to come. Don’t assume we can make gains—or even preserve what we achieved in past bargaining—without stepping up our strength to the face the challenges before us.