Let me start with the good news: Our colleagues in the United Faculty of Florida Chapter at the University of Central Florida in Orlando have arrived at a tentative bargaining agreement with their administration’s bargaining team. While the agreement still needs to be ratified both by the bargaining unit and by the Board of Trustees, both negotiating teams are recommending approval.
UCF’s agreement is modeled on the one ratified at the University of South Florida in Tampa in November, while USF’s agreement in turn is based on the last state-wide agreement that expired over two years ago. All of the rights and protections in the state-wide agreement were preserved, while “sexual orientation” was added to the non-discrimination article, academic freedom was strengthened, promotion increases will no longer come out of the pool for raises, and raises—some across the board and some for merit—constitute 5% of the current salary pool. In addition, at UCF summer pay for the first two courses was raised from 11.1% (one-ninth) to 12.5%.
Devolution of the state university system, which was designed to get rid of the faculty union statewide, seems to be working in favor of the faculties at the three institutions that have finished bargaining—FAU, USF, and UCF.
At FIU, however, we still have a long way to go. This past week we have had two bargaining sessions with the administration team, a half-day session on Wednesday and a full day on Friday. The appointment of Dr. Judith Blucker as chief negotiator for the administration team is a definite step forward. The tone of the meetings is cordial and businesslike, and time is no longer wasted trying to explain to the university’s chief negotiator how a university works.
However, the administration is sticking to its hard-line, corporate-model position that the rights and protections that were included in the state-wide agreements for 27 years will no longer be included in the FIU collective bargaining agreement. Instead, the administration proposes that these rights and protections be included only in university policy.
Two things are wrong with this approach. First, unlike a collective bargaining agreement, university policy can be changed unilaterally by the administration, rather than changes having to be bargained with the union. Second, since the grievance and arbitration procedure can be used only to enforce the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, it cannot be used by a faculty member victimized by an administrator who violates university policies. Instead, the faculty member would have to hire an attorney and sue the university for violating its own policies.
Further, the scope of this denial of rights and protections by a bargaining agreement having the force of law is very broad. The administration team put on the table Friday eight articles, each of which consisted entirely of one word: “VACANT”. Combined with one previously presented, these blank proposals would remove from the agreement the following articles: Article 6: Nondiscrimination; 8: Appointment; 9: Assignment of Responsibilities; 10: Employee Performance Evaluations; 11: Evaluation File; 12: Nonreappointment; 14: Promotion Procedure; 16: Disciplinary Action; and 19: Conflict of Interest/Outside Activity. (The expired state-wide agreement may be found at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargain.html.)
No one who has been at the university for any length of time needs an explanation of why the rights and protections in the above areas need to be in a legally-binding agreement enforceable by the grievance and arbitration procedure: Chairs, deans, and other supervisors and administrators all too often make stupid decisions. Whether this is due to inattention, exhaustion, mean-spiritedness, or outright prejudice is irrelevant. Faculty need the recourse of an agreement and a procedure that has served the faculty and the University well for 27 years.
If this were not bad enough, the administration team made us an offer: If we agreed to leave these articles “vacant”, they would relent and be willing to allow an article on Academic Freedom! Some trade, huh?
When President Maidique appointed Dr. Blucker as chief negotiator, he informed the faculty that she would report directly to him. It is President Maidique, then, who needs to explain to the faculty why the team he directs has taken such a hard line. What was it about the old system that was broken? What part wasn’t working? Why is it that FAU, USF, and UCF can continue to guarantee these rights and protections by an agreement having the force of law, enforced by a workable grievance and arbitration procedure, but FIU cannot? Where do these radical ideas, so alien to a great university, so inimical to keeping excellent faculty at FIU, come from?
The UFF-FIU Chapter will soon have the opportunity to decide how to proceed in the face of this radical administration approach. The spring membership luncheon will be held Thursday, February 24, from noon to 2pm in the Graham Center West Ballroom on the UP campus. This is our annual meeting to elect officers and state senators, who together constitute the Executive Council of the Chapter. Members will therefore have the opportunity to set policy for the next year, and to elect a leadership to carry it out.
Members should already have received an email on how to reserve a place at the luncheon. (Members who have not received an email about RSVPing should contact me.) If you are not yet a member but have decided that it is time to show which side you are on in our attempt to defend our rights, protections, and standard of living may download a membership form at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.form.html. Or you can join at the door. New members are encouraged to attend the luncheon, to nominate (perhaps yourself), and to vote.