Memorandum on Salaries
I am happy to report that the UFF has reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the administration that will entitle all eligible bargaining unit members to a 4% across-the-board salary increase, effective March 4, 2005. This raise is not a bonus, but a 4% increase in base salary. The Memorandum of Understanding was reached despite the fact that the administration has declared bargaining to be at an impasse on the rest of negotiations to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
To be eligible for the increase, bargaining unit members must have been employed on May 1, 2004, and continuously employed through March 4, 2005 (not counting the summer for those on a 9-month contract). Further, they must have been deemed satisfactory or above in the majority of their assigned duties in their most recent annual evaluation (i.e., at the end of the 2003-2004 academic year). Employees on grants or contracts will be eligible for the increase, provided that such increases are allowed by the grant or contract and that adequate funds are available in the grant or contract.
The Memorandum also stipulates that unit members receiving promotions last year will have the 9% increase in their base salary retroactive to the first pay period of this academic year (or of the fiscal year for librarians), rather than to December 1, 2004, as originally implemented by the administration. And the agreement “does not preclude the possibility of further retroactive salary increases.”
The Memorandum “does not resolve or waive claims concerning compensation for summer teaching in Summer 2003 or Summer 2004.” We anticipate that faculty who were paid less for a summer course than what that course pays in the fall or spring will eventually receive back pay. We are confident this will be one outcome of our recent District Court of Appeals victory on the “successor employer” issue.
This will be the first salary increase most faculty have had since the fall of 2002, except for the raise granted by the legislature to all state employees on the state health plan in 2003 (to compensate for increased rates, co-pays, and deductibles), the discretionary raise given by the administration to 37% of the unit in 2003, and the one-time $1000 bonus the legislature granted to all state employees last December.
While UFF felt it was essential to get raises into the salary base before the end of the academic year, we were reluctant to accept a raise that was not retroactive to the beginning of the year. The language of the Memorandum makes it clear that this is not to be interpreted as a precedent for future years.
However, we agreed to the Memorandum because it became clear during negotiations that the FIU budget truly is in dire straits currently. It is regrettable that mismanagement has resulted in such nightmares as the HCET scandal. It is shameful that millions of dollars that might have been available for retroactive raises, merit raises or market equity funds have instead been spent on attorneys’ fees and paybacks to the federal government.
The survey of the bargaining unit the UFF conducted in the fall of 2003 showed that the unit overwhelmingly felt that cost-of-living raises should come first—that merit raises for some should not be financed by lowering the after-inflation incomes of others. But that survey also showed that the unit favors merit raises when they are based on departmental-determined criteria and processes and not subject to an arbitrary proportion of the faculty who are eligible. The unit also favors raises for market equity, to counter compression and inversion. We are willing to bargain a reasonable amount to be used for discretionary raises, such as verified counter-offers. This year, unfortunately, the money isn’t in the budget.
The UFF’s proposed salary article is based on the above considerations, and in accepting the Memorandum we did not waive the possibility that these proposals will eventually be bargained retroactive to the current year.
But we decided to sign the Memorandum of Understanding now because we wanted to get a substantial increase into the salary base before the end of the academic year and while the money was available. Four percent across-the-board is the largest increase FIU faculty and librarians have had in many years. Those who earned promotions last year will be receiving a lump-sum check for making their raises retroactive from December to the August date they deserved in the first place. We have preserved the right to back pay for those who were offered less than the bargaining agreement requires for summer courses. Courses for Summer 2005 will of course pay 4% more.
We have not yet begun to bargain raises for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2005, or for academic year 2005-6. While faculty and librarians welcome the substantial increase agreed to in the Memorandum, it will not be the end of our efforts to bargain better salaries or other equally important rights.
But most importantly we signed the Memorandum because we wanted to make sure that the struggle we are in with the administration will not be seen as a fight over money. The stakes in this first locally-bargained agreement are much larger than just how much money is on the table. We are in the midst of a fight to defend the rights and protections that have been in the state-wide collective bargaining agreement for nearly thirty years.
The administration contends that taking those rights and protections out of the bargaining agreement and putting them only in university policy is not much of a change. But if they are not in the agreement, they are not subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure, which ends, in rare cases, before a neutral third-party. And it is the threat that administrative decisions may have to be defended before a neutral arbitrator that keeps the lower-level decisions fair and equitable, rather than only self-serving for the administration.
The administration no doubt thinks that giving the faculty a 4% across-the-board raise will take the steam out of the faculty opposition to the administration’s bargaining position. They think you will be bought off by the 4% and that the UFF made a mistake in accepting it. We are confident, on the other hand, that the agreement on salaries will give the bargaining unit a boost in morale, like a little refreshment ten miles or so into a marathon. And a marathon it may be, before we secure the rights and protections, enforceable by contract, which we have had and continue to need.
Where do we go from here?
We believe that the administration has committed an Unfair Labor Practice in trying to force us to waive our right to bargain the issues in the 17 articles of the previous agreement that the administration insists be removed from any new agreement. We are in discussions with our attorneys aimed at protecting our rights before the Public Employees Relations Commission, should the FIU administration persist in this course
Meanwhile, since the administration has declared an impasse in bargaining, the first stages of the impasse procedure have already begun. Both sides will need to agree on a Special Magistrate, chosen from a list provided by the state.
Should the administration and the UFF fail to resolve their differences at the bargaining table, ultimately each side will present its final impasse positions in a public hearing before the magistrate. The magistrate will then recommend a settlement, based on the positions of the two sides, at a public meeting. This recommendation then goes to the FIU Board of Trustees, who may either choose to accept the recommendation of the magistrate or choose to ignore it and propose a settlement of their own to the bargaining unit.
That proposed settlement then must be submitted to the bargaining unit for ratification. If it is anything like their last position at the bargaining table, I think we can be confident that it will be turned down overwhelmingly by the unit. Then the Board can impose a settlement, but only until the end of the fiscal year, and bargaining begins immediately on a new agreement.
Is this a rigged system, since it gives to one side of the bargaining table—the employer—the right to impose a settlement on the employees? Of course it is. This is why the administration has not taken bargaining seriously from the beginning.
What should be remembered, however, is that the community colleges have had this rigged system for years. Despite that, faculties have been able to win very good contracts, often winning better salary increases than the universities received. At the beginning, local Boards often imposed settlements at impasse, which were opposed by the faculty.
But where the faculty remained united and continued to fight for fair treatment and decent contracts, the administration and board tired of fighting with their own faculty, realizing that the result could only be a damaged college. Over time, the administrations and the UFF found ways to bargain in good faith, and bargaining new collective bargaining agreements became relatively routine.
We have not yet reached that mature relationship with the FIU trustees. While it is not surprising that the Board of Trustees did not understand that a university needs to be run through collegial governance, not top-down style corporate governance, it is surprising that President Maidique, who has been on the job for 19 years now, still does not understand.
What would be best for the university is for President Maidique to abandon his extreme course, send a team to the table with instructions to use the expired statewide bargaining agreement as a model, and conclude bargaining soon so the university can go back to its real business. That was the approach taken at FAU, where under the leadership of former Lt. Governor Brogan, an agreement was reached in a couple months of bargaining and ratified last May. Their progress toward a medical school seems to be at least a year ahead of FIU as well.
Even more relevant is the experience at Florida Gulf Coast University. Initially they too wanted to remove all the faculty rights and protections from the collective bargaining agreement and put them only in university policy. They hired a high-priced outside attorney to negotiate for them. Then a year into the process the president of the university fired the attorney, called in the leaders of the union, apologized for the approach he had taken, and appointed a dean to be their chief negotiator. They have now reached an agreement with all of the rights and protections back in, and will go to certain ratification by the bargaining unit shortly. Of all eleven universities now dealing with local boards, five have already settled and only FIU persists in the extreme approach of gutting the previous contract that all of the others have abandoned.
The sense on campus that FIU is in the midst of a serious crisis of leadership is palpable. No one—faculty, staff, or administrators—can fathom what possible good can come from these attacks on the faculty and other employees.
We should all—administrators and chairs included—do whatever we can to get the President back in touch with the university. If you see him, express your concern that the attack on the rights and protections of the faculty is doing serious damage to FIU. Send him a letter or email. Hopefully he will abandon his extreme course, and empower his bargaining team to reach a quick and reasonable agreement to get all of this unnecessary conflict behind us. If he adopted such a course, I’m sure the university community would welcome his pragmatism and renewed leadership.
In the meantime, the UFF will step up its efforts, building upon a united university community, to reach out to others to try to convince the president to do the right thing. If that campaign succeeds sooner rather than later, the university will be the better for it. But we will continue that campaign, strengthening it every way we can, for as long as it takes.
UFF has worked to minimize damage to the university, and we will continue to do so. But we understand what a university should be, and will continue to defend and promote that vision. An outside Board of Trustees and a university president at odds with their own faculty and most of their own administrators cannot continue forever down a misguided path, on which the benefits are few and the costs continue to grow. We will win because we know that what they are trying to do to the faculty and to the institution is wrong, and because we have no intention of giving up the fight. The sooner they realize their error, the less the university will suffer. Let’s hope they come to their senses soon.
If you have not yet shown which side you are on, a UFF membership form may be downloaded at uff.form.html