Alan Gummerson’s Response to the Provost, March 5, 2005

Members of the Faculty Collective Bargaining Unit,

Today (Saturday) at noon Provost Rosenberg sent out a memorandum on collective bargaining with the UFF. Let me respond to the points he makes there, specifically in the areas of tenure, academic freedom, salary proposals, removing faculty rights and protections from the bargaining agreement, and the harm that will come to FIU if the administration has its way.

Before I do, however, let me remind you that your presence is needed at the Board of Trustees meeting Monday, 9 am, Graham Center Ballroom. I hope that after reading what follows you will understand the importance of attending the meeting.

First, it is true that the UFF and the administration agreed several weeks ago to language on a tenure process that will go into the new collective bargaining agreement. However, bargaining bogged down for weeks because the administration wanted the right to fire tenured faculty for something called "persistently uncollegial behavior". Your union team would not agree to such dangerous and vague language. It was the widespread anger of the faculty, as expressed by your attendance at the Board of Trustees' meeting in November, that finally forced the administration to agree to return to the language that had served us for years, allowing only incompetence and misconduct as grounds for firing a tenured faculty member.

Second, it is NOT true that both sides have agreed to an Academic Freedom article. In fact, yesterday at the table the administration team refused to accept our proposal on academic freedom, which is modeled on the one recently agreed to at the University of South Florida. The main clause of our proposal is the following:

Academic freedom is the freedom of an employee to present and discuss all relevant matters in the classroom, to select instructional materials and determine grades, to pursue all avenues of scholarship, research and creative expression, to speak freely on all matters of university governance, and to speak, write or act as an individual, all without institutional discipline or restraint.

The administration’s team says they cannot accept our proposal because of the clause granting the freedom of an employee “to speak freely on all matters of university governance”. Further their proposal does not grant the freedom “to speak, write or act as an individual, all without institutional discipline or restraint”. Their proposal would narrowly limit academic freedom to one’s own academic subjects and assigned service, leaving faculty vulnerable both on topics of university governance and topics not specifically within our area of academic expertise, say ballot proposals or the contribution of football teams to the greater good. We trust that the faculty understands the importance of not compromising on these issues of principle.

Third, the administration’s team did put their salary proposal on the table yesterday. Considering all of the rights and protections they demand we surrender, we had anticipated a generous proposal that would tempt faculty to give up long term rights and protections for short-term gains. Instead their proposal is two-years late and many dollars short. Their proposal is for 2% across the board and 2% merit, effective NOT retroactively to December 2003 (a year after our last raise), or even to last August, but to yesterday, March 4, 2005. They propose only 1% across the board and 2% merit for December 1, 2005, and another 1% across the board and 2% merit on December 1, 2006. Total: 10% over three years.

I noted in a bargaining report in January that according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the cost of living has increased in Dade and Broward counties by 6% since December, 2002, the date of our last across the board raise. So the 2% across the board they propose for yesterday doesn’t come close to keeping our real wages—in terms of what we can afford to purchase—from a serious decline.

You don’t have to be a statistician to see that a guarantee of 4% over 5 years is nothing to write home about. And, wearing my economist hat now, don’t get me started about how much inflation we can expect over the next three years, given the fiscal and monetary policies currently in place in Washington.

Even in comparison with our sister institutions in the state, this is not an attractive proposal. USF faculty bargained a 5% of salary pool increase, part across the board and part merit, retroactive to August 7, 2004, and that was just for one year. Bargaining will begin this summer for next year’s increase at USF.

We understand that budgets are tight at FIU, what with $11.5 million of unaccounted-for HCET money going back to the federal government, $2 million for the lawyers, plus the interest to be paid on the funds that will have to be borrowed. And then there is the big increase in the number of administrators, while the number of faculty is stagnant or even falling. (See the Nissen report: http://www.uff-fiu.org/BudgetPersonnelAnalysisofFIU.doc)

So we are less than persuaded when told that while “in the best of all worlds, faculty should be fully paid for their summer efforts”, at FIU only the first summer course will be compensated at 11% of the nine-month salary. Pay for any subsequent courses will be limited by the budget—“what is available is what can be paid”. What is available is going elsewhere, and now faculty are told that the contractual guarantee for equal pay for summer courses—which has been in the state-wide agreement for all state universities for many years, and is being maintained at FAU, USF, and UCF in their new bargaining agreements—is no longer affordable at FIU. Is it any wonder that most faculty believe that faculty are expected to bear the costs of management blunders and waste?

Let me turn now to the real log-jam in bargaining between the administration and the UFF: the administration’s insistence that 17 articles (they added more yesterday) containing rights and protections for faculty that were in the statewide agreement for years, be taken out of the new agreement and placed in university policy instead. My bargaining report of earlier this week (of which you may have received up to six copies—my apologies—due to our attempts to evade a new university “appliance” that considered my report spam—imagine!) spoke to this issue.

The problem with this proposal is

(1) The university does not intend to bargain these policies and reach a compromise agreement with the bargaining representatives of the faculty. Instead they invite our “input”, but are free to put whatever they want into policy. We have refused to play this game and insist that these provisions be bargained articles in a collective bargaining agreement.

(2) Once they are put into effect, mere policies can be changed unilaterally by the administration, unlike a collective bargaining agreement. The Provost argues the opposite: “These policies and procedures could not be modified once they are agreed upon, and must be in place for the duration of the three-year agreement. We have proposed an article, maintenance of policies and procedures, which indicates that the Board will not change the policies and procedures during the term of the agreement.”

But read their proposal, particularly section 33.3: “Nothing in this Article shall be construed to deny the authority of the Board to adopt or change University rules or policies through established processes.” I don’t think you have to be an attorney to see a loophole there, do you? Read their entire proposed article so you may judge for yourself.

(3) Even if they don’t change their policies, there is nothing to force them to abide by their own policies. And they refuse to put into the agreement a sentence saying that they will follow their own policies.

What if a chair, director, dean, or administrator violates their own non-discrimination policy, for example? When non-discrimination is prohibited by the bargaining agreement, the alleged victim can file a grievance, which may ultimately end up before a neutral arbitrator. This threat that a grievance might be filed keeps everybody aware of the consequences of unjust or inequitable administrative decisions.

Under their “philosophy”, “We will also have in place an institutional grievance procedure for all matters not covered through the agreement.” Well, let’s see it! Show us the guarantees that the “institutional grievance procedure” will not just end with one administrator approving another administrator’s mistake. Show us some teeth that will keep administrators honest, like the remedies that a neutral arbitrator can impose if the administration violates the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

(4) It ain’t broke; what are you trying to fix? Both the administration and the UFF have bragged over the years that we had the best labor relations of any of the universities in the state during the 27 years the state-wide agreement was in effect. Both sides took the opportunity of the former 30-day deadline for filing a grievance to reach informal resolutions of problems, before a faculty member had to file a grievance against a colleague which could only lead to a hardening of positions on both sides. Now the administration team proposes to drastically reduce the time to file a grievance, which would force grievances to be filed before there is time to work out an informal resolution. This would force more grievances to be filed, and would make the workplace more contentious, with the damage to relationships between faculty and administrators more severe. Why would this be in anyone's interest?

The administration argues that the Board wants to get rid of the grievance and arbitration process so that the locus of decision-making is within the university, rather than in the hands of some third party arbitrator. But even the administration's chief negotiator had to agree that so successful had been our attempts to resolve disputes locally that few grievances had ever gone to arbitration at FIU--only six in the 18 years she had been an FIU administrator. Where is the problem that leads to such severe attacks on faculty rights and protections?

(5) No matter what the rationalizations, this proposal is just a transparent attempt at union-busting. It doesn’t matter how good the ultimate grievance article is (and by labor law there must be a grievance article in every bargaining agreement), in the bargaining agreement they are proposing there will be nothing to grieve. Almost everything will be out of the agreement, and hence not grievable: discipline, non-discrimination, evaluations, assignments, appointment, promotion, leaves, conflict of interest, intellectual property rights, etc., etc.

Faculty at FIU signed authorization cards for the UFF in overwhelming numbers because we want a union and a bargaining agreement which protects our rights. If we had been forced to an election, more than 90% of the faculty would have voted for the UFF, as faculty did at FSU. Instead of trying to have the union voted out in a fair and democratic election, they are trying to destroy the union by other means.

The faculty will not allow its rights and protections to be taken away without an enormous fight. Why would the administration declare war against its own faculty at a time it hopes to move ahead with initiatives like a medical school, recruiting and retaining top notch faculty? Who would want to come work at FIU if it descends into civil war?

In scarcely three decades, we have built a public university of which we can be proud. During that time of enormous growth and progress, FIU has always had a strong faculty union and a collective bargaining agreement. For most of that time, FIU has had no local Board of Trustees. Now we have entered a new era. If this public research university is to continue to progress, the Board must learn to listen to and respect its faculty and their union. We expect and deserve no less.

What has been working so badly at FIU that warrants these attacks on faculty? Can anybody answer that question?

Maybe we will get an answer at the Board of Trustees meeting, Monday, 9 am, Graham Center Ballroom.

Alan

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[last updated: March 06 2005]