In my last report I was able to report both good and bad news. This time, I'm afraid I can't be so positive. (Previous bargaining reports are archived at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargaining.html.)
The good news then was that after dragging their feet all spring, the negotiating team representing the Board of Trustees had finally scheduled four eight-hour bargaining sessions between June 28 and July 16. We hoped that serious progress could be made. Unfortunately, that has not happened. The BoT team came unprepared to bargain at the first meeting, canceled the second, made some progress at the third, and then canceled the fourth.
Little progress has been made toward an agreement, and less than a month remains of the summer. FIU's General Counsel, who oversees bargaining for the BoT, told the Trustees in May that she thought an agreement could be reached by the end of the summer. That will be impossible without a huge change in the behavior of the BoT negotiators.
But the really bad news is what the BoT team proposes when they do manage to drag themselves to the table. My earlier reports have explained that they want to eliminate from the contract any reference to collegial governance, and to eliminate the article on non-discrimination. The latter would force a faculty member to hire a lawyer and sue the university if she thought she was being discriminated against--whether for age, gender, national origin, etc.--rather than using the grievance and arbitration procedures as we have been able to do under the previous collective bargaining agreement. There was no change in their positions on these issues over the last month.
Their latest proposal, (are you sitting down?), is to modify the article on Layoffs in the expired collective bargaining agreement (available at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargain.html). Article 13 required that if layoffs became necessary due to a financial emergency or program restructuring, no tenured faculty in the unit could be laid off as long as non-tenured faculty remained in the unit. The BoT team proposes that this protection be eliminated, and that tenure become only one of several factors that will be "considered" in deciding who will be laid off. In other words, the administration will decide who stays and who goes.
If imposed, this proposal would strike at the very heart of the concept of a university. The essence of a university is its faculty--it is a community of scholars and teachers. Students, staff, administrators, and trustees may come and go, but at its core a university is its teachers and researchers. It is the faculty that must decide program and curriculum. And who is competent to decide who the faculty should be? To ask the question makes it obvious what the answer must be. No university worthy of the name allows administrators to decide who is competent to be a faculty member. Only other faculty have the expertise to decide who their peers should be. And the tenure process is the grueling test of competence that candidates must pass before they earn their acceptance into the community of the faculty.
If imposed, this proposal would make a mockery of tenure and the community of scholars. Oh, sure, provisional faculty members would still have to prove their worthiness for joining the community by submitting themselves to the tenure process. Some would not make the grade. But even those who did would be vulnerable, because it would be the administration who ultimately had the power to decide who would be faculty members, not the faculty themselves. Would this matter to academic freedom? Who would have the courage to publish research into the effects of fraternities and sororities--or football teams--on academic standards at universities, if administrators could eliminate faculty they didn't like by restructuring programs? Would tenured faculty dare to investigate the effects of big-money campaign contributions on the democratic process if they were afraid that a powerful trustee might demand that the faculty member be restructured out of a position?
The BoT team's proposal on layoffs is not just an attack on the rights faculty have enjoyed for over a quarter of a century under the previous collective bargaining agreement. It is an attack on the very concept of a faculty that must decide what is to be researched and taught, and who is to research and teach.
The BoT team made their Layoffs proposal on July 2. Our Chief Negotiator, Prof. Lorna Veraldi—who has been terrific in negotiating on our behalf—forcefully argued that it would effectively eliminate tenure. She asked if they knew of any other Research I university that had gutted tenure as their proposal would. They had no response. She insisted that they rethink their proposal, and go back and consult with those who oversee the negotiations for the Trustees. She put the BoT negotiator on notice that if the proposal were not withdrawn, the UFF would have no choice but to declare “war”. I deliberately refrained from immediately reporting the proposal to the bargaining unit, hoping that it would be revised at the next session. It was not revised.
The UFF bargaining team will not accept this proposal; we cannot. But that may not be enough to prevent its implementation. Under the provisions of the devolution of the state university system implemented by the current governor, if bargaining reaches an impasse, it is the Board of Trustees who will decide what the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement will be. In other words, if faculty do not signal their displeasure with what is being proposed at the table, it may be imposed on us. (If that strikes you as blatantly unfair--that one side in the negotiations gets to decide the result--welcome to the new university system. On the other hand, that is how the community college system has functioned for years, and community colleges with strong faculty unions have manage to win strong contracts.)
This is serious, folks. Bargaining is now local. What we can win at the table depends on how much support we have from the bargaining unit. And the best way to show support for the team bargaining on your behalf is to join the union. Florida is a "right-to-work" (for less) state. The union must bargain for everyone in the unit, regardless of whether they are members and pay dues or not. No one doubts that this provision was put into the Taft-Hartley Act to weaken unions. It has. At FIU, less than half of the faculty has shouldered the cost of collective bargaining and enforcing the contract.
If the 70+% of the faculty who signed authorization cards saying they wanted UFF to be their bargaining agent were members of the union, the BoT negotiators would not dare propose gutting tenure, or eliminating an enforceable non-discrimination article from the contract. If you are not yet a member of the union, please consider carefully whether it is really in your self-interest to remain on the sidelines at this critical moment.
It should be clear to everyone by now that those to whom the Trustees have delegated the task of collective bargaining intend to take the opportunity provided by the devolution of the State University System to make an all-out attack on the rights of faculty. What had been protected by the expired collective bargaining agreement in the areas of tenure, collegial governance, enforceable non-discrimination, etc., will be ancient history if we let them have their way. FIU will be irrevocably changed.
If we are to defend what we have had—let alone make any new gains—non-members will have to become members, members will have to become activists, and we will have to mobilize support both within the university and in the broader community against the attacks we are under. Count on a meeting at the beginning of the fall semester where we will implement the campaign to mobilize our strength and reach out to our allies.