October has now come and gone with virtually no progress to report in UFF’s attempts to bargain a new contract with the FIU administration. Despite the fact that President Maidique told us “I hear you” during the “Bargain Now” sticker campaign at Faculty Convocation, there has been no discernable change in the behavior of his bargaining team.
The administration’s approach is still to proceed at a leisurely pace, meeting once or twice a month for a few hours. The UFF team has offered to meet on 20 different dates during November (on 16 of those 20 dates, UFF’s team has offered to be available from 8 in the morning until 10 at night). The administration’s team has accepted only two of the dates, and will only agree to meet with UFF from 1pm to 5pm. At this rate, Iraq will be a thriving democracy before the faculty has a collective bargaining agreement.
Since salary increases must come from collective bargaining, it is hard to see how the administration hopes to agree to salary increases before the end of this semester. Fortunately, the administration’s lack of interest in bargaining faculty raises does not affect the $1,000 bonus the legislature passed for all employees on the state health plan. That will go into effect December 1, no matter how slowly the administration goes in addressing raises that would go into our base pay. We have also proposed that faculty who received promotions this year get their raises, even if we haven’t reached agreement yet on the full agreement.
UFF hopes to achieve major structural changes in the salary provisions during this cycle of bargaining that would make raises fairer and more rational. But since salary language will not even be proposed until we bargain non-salary issues, it’s hard to believe that the administration thinks raises for faculty are a priority for this university.
We do not yet know all of the rights and protections the administration wants to eliminate from the collective bargaining agreement, since they have put on the table only about a third of their proposals. But we know a few. They would eliminate our contract protection against discrimination based on race, gender, and religion. They would take away a contract right to academic freedom. They would undermine the protections of tenure. They would gut the grievance and arbitration procedure, which is our only practical avenue of enforcing our rights, by drastically shortening the time period in which faculty have to bring grievances in the first place and by declaring disciplinary actions not subject to grievances at all! (My earlier reports are archived at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargaining.html .)
The other part of their strategy is to play the role of the benevolent and paternal employer, prevented by intrusive unions from showering all members of the “FIU Family” with valuable benefits. This was the subtext of the glossy brochure delivered to the mailboxes of all “FIU Family” members over the last couple of weeks. If you tossed yours without reading it, under the assumption that anything so glitzy couldn’t possibly have been meant for faculty, you can access it at http://www.fiu.edu/personnel/initiatives/pdf/hrbrochure.pdf . It describes various benefits to be made available to members of the “Family”, like bereavement leaves, same-sex partners medical benefits, and free tuition for family members.
Several of the benefits are worthwhile. Some would be less than what the previous bargaining agreement guaranteed or what we have proposed at the table, and many come with serious limitations. Free tuition for family members, for example, sounds great, except for the limitation of two classes per semester. Junior will still be occupying the back bedroom when he turns thirty.
The kicker in the brochure comes with this statement: “For those employees who are, or may in the future be, covered by collective bargaining agreements, FIU is currently engaging in good-faith collective bargaining negotiations with UFF, AFSCME, PBA, and SEIU to address the extension of these initiatives to represented employees.”
Get it? If only you weren’t represented by a union, you could have all of these goodies from daddy already! The statement is in the brochure twice, just in case you missed it the first time. And of course the longer negotiations drag on, the longer you do without the benefits.
When UFF learned that the administration was interested in bargaining these new “Human Resources” benefits, many of which are scheduled to go into effect this month, UFF proposed that we give these matters priority at the table. We have asked the administration to do what it claims to be doing in the brochure: to bargain an extension of these benefits to UFF members. We will let you know as soon as the administration follows through; we are eager to bargain new benefits that would improve our unit members’ working conditions as soon as the administration is willing to bring them to the table.
These proposals are what President Maidique was apparently referring to in his rather cryptic email memo to us all last Friday, titled “Human Resources and Collective Bargaining.” In the memo he declares his commitment “to a modern, 21st century approach to human resources” (I guess that’s us).
President Maidique also says in his memo, “We remain strongly committed to academic freedom and tenure?foundational elements of the academy…” (sic) If that is true, one wonders why his bargaining team proposed to eliminate the protection of tenured faculty during layoffs, a position they softened only when the protests from faculty became too costly to ignore. Or why they propose to leave out an article on academic freedom from the collective bargaining agreement where it could be enforced by the grievance and arbitration procedure. The other revealing sentence in President Maidique’s memo is this one, referring to ongoing collective bargaining: “Sound reasoning that reflects institutional interests will not be exchanged for expediency.” In other words, don’t expect us to try to reach agreement any time soon, and take off those stickers.
So their strategy is clear: (1) stall; (2) remove rights and protections from the bargaining agreement and put them only in university “Policy”, where they could be changed unilaterally and where they are not subject to enforcement by the grievance and arbitration process; and (3) offer goodies to parts of the “Family” that don’t have union representation.
What should our strategy be?
(1) Escalate the pressure on the administration to fulfill their lawful duty to bargain fairly and to reach an agreement soon. A large turnout of faculty at the November 22 Board of Trustees meeting would help them hear us. I have asked for the chance to address the Board, and have been granted three (3) minutes. A large number of faculty in attendance might impress the Board and the President that the faculty is not falling for their stalling strategy.
(2) We need to take our message to the broader community. The administration’s bargaining tactics are not good for Miami’s only public research university. December graduation is approaching, and will offer an opportunity for us to make our case to that broader community.
(3) Finally, none of this will work unless we can back it up with strong union membership. The attacks we are facing are serious; the university will not be the same if we lose. This is not the time to be on the sidelines. It is time for you to join UFF. We thank the dozens of new members that have joined over the last few months. We are close to having a majority of the faculty as members, but we need your help. If you are already a member, ask your colleagues to join. Membership forms may be downloaded at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.form.html.