Members of the Faculty Bargaining Unit,

             I have excellent news.

             You may remember that in early April the FIU administration declared “impasse” in the negotiations with the UFF.  That began a process that they thought would end with the Board of Trustees unilaterally imposing a new bargaining agreement on the faculty, one with all of the rights and protections of the previous agreement removed to university policy only, where they could not be enforced by the grievance and arbitration procedure.

             In May the UFF filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against FIU, on the grounds that by forcing the impasse they have deprived us of our right to bargain the rights and protections in the 17 articles of the previous agreement that they intend to leave “vacant”. 

             At the same time we filed a Motion to Stay the Impasse.  We argued to the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) that there was no point in going ahead with the impasse proceedings, because if we won the Unfair Labor Practice, PERC would order both sides back to the bargaining table and instruct the administration to bargain those rights and protections.

             Last Wednesday, June 15, PERC granted our Motion to Stay the Impasse.  The effect of this is two-fold.  First, the impasse process will now be on hold until PERC can rule on the Unfair Labor Practice charge.  Our attorneys think that the arguments will not be heard until probably well into July, and that a decision will probably not come down until September or October at the earliest. 

             Whatever the decision then, the status quo based on the previous bargaining agreement will now be in place well into the middle of the fall semester, and probably longer.  This will prevent the Board of Trustees from imposing their extreme solution for a non-existent problem for a lengthy period. 

             In the unlikely event we lose the Unfair Labor Practice, the impasse procedure will begin again, probably in mid-fall, with a public hearing at which both sides present their arguments.  Then the Special Master will offer his suggested agreement in a public meeting.  Then the Board of Trustees would propose an agreement that must be submitted to the bargaining unit for a ratification vote.  Once it is rejected—and if it is anything like the current proposal it will be rejected overwhelmingly—the Board could impose an agreement on us, but only for that fiscal year, with bargaining beginning again for the next year.  This process will probably put us well into the second semester, perhaps later.

             Second, however, our attorneys believe that the Motion to Stay the Impasse would not have been approved unless PERC thought that our Unfair Labor Practice charge had merit.  So while we should not break out the bubbly just yet, we are optimistic that PERC will follow the law and its own precedents and rule that the strategy the administration has been following is illegal, as we have argued from the beginning.  Both sides would then return to the table, with the administration charged to abandon its previous approach and to bargain in good faith. 

             The time is ripe for the administration to come to its senses, start with the previous state-wide bargaining agreement that worked well for 27 years, change the handful of things that need to be changed, and reach agreement with the faculty.  (USF, FAU, UCF, FGCU, and New College have already done this.  No other administration is still following the FIU approach.)  We could finish by the end of the summer.  Then FIU could return to normal and we could all get on with the business of educating students and creating knowledge. 

             Or, the administration could continue this unnecessary attack on its own faculty, continue to demoralize the university, and continue to drive away many of its best faculty. 

             Just in case the administration chooses to continue down its destructive path, we have plans to build our strength so that we will be in a position to ultimately prevail, no matter how long it takes.  First, that means continuing to build up the membership of UFF so that no one can doubt that UFF speaks for the faculty and so we can bring to bear the resources needed to win.  We are very close to having a majority of the bargaining unit as members, so we will be campaigning to go over the top.  If you have not yet joined UFF, a membership form may be downloaded at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.form.html

             Second, we will build our strength by reaching out to our natural allies.  Some of them are on campus, like our co-workers in USPS (secretarial staff, maintenance workers, etc) who are represented by AFSCME, nurses represented by SEIU, and the police represented by PBA, who are facing the same demands that we are—that they give up their rights and protections that have been enforceable by grievance and arbitration.  I will have more to report about this below.

            Other allies on campus include the students.  They have an interest in keeping the best faculty and researchers from being driven away by attacks from the administration.  The articles in the Beacon, Herald, and Sun-Sentinel have motivated many students to approach faculty about what is going on here.  We will continue to encourage such inquisitiveness—outside of the classroom, of course.  (It is illegal in this state to use class time to build support for a faculty union.)   

             Many of our natural allies are off campus, and we are beginning to reach out to them.  FIU alumni have an interest in keeping the best faculty here, and we are confident many will respond to a call to save FIU—and the value of their degrees—from the extremists who would impose a corporate model on the university.  Many of us in the faculty keep in touch with former students, and some have already asked how they can help us.  We will help them come together to aid us in our efforts.

             The broader organizations with which UFF is affiliated—the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), and the Florida Education Association (FEA)—are already following our efforts closely and supporting them.  We are not the only university confronted with outsiders trying to impose a corporate model of governance, rather than the collegial governance model we have been used to.  Because the leaderships of these broad organizations like the way we have stood up to the attacks on us, they have let us know that they are eager to step up their support in any way they can.  We will be happy to accept their increased assistance.

             There are many in the local community who have a strong interest in restoring a healthy FIU.  The UFF has worked with many labor and community organizations over the years, as well as with local political leaders, and many will respond to a call to save FIU from those who have an ideological agenda to pursue.  We are reaching out to them and look forward to the creative ways we know they will come up with to aid our efforts.

             Let me turn now to the attack on our secretaries and other USPS workers on campus.  You may have seen the email sent out by Vice President Vivian Sanchez, the new head of Human Resources.  In it she outlined the salary offer the administration has put on the bargaining table in negotiations with AFSCME, which represents USPS workers.  The offer is a $750 raise or 2%, whichever is greater, plus 1% merit pay. 

             This offer is better than it appears since most USPS employees are paid so little that $750 is 3%, or 4%, or even more of their current salaries.  $750 is 3% of $25,000 for example; it is 4% of $18,750, and many USPS employees make less than that.  Can you imagine trying to live in South Florida on that?  It is shameful.  To its credit, AFSCME demanded that most of the increase be a fixed amount across the board to address the needs of their least-paid workers.

             What Ms. Sanchez did not address in her email, is the rest of the story.  The administration has taken the same approach to the rights and protections enforced by grievance and arbitration in the previous AFSCME bargaining agreement that they have taken with UFF—we will put it in university policy and you can trust us to be fair.  Naturally, the AFSCME bargaining team has no intention of accepting.

             Further, the administration’s proposal would change the status of USPS employees to “at will”.  The AFSCME bargaining agreement allows the university to terminate employees only for “just cause”—misconduct and incompetence—enforced by the grievance procedure which can end before a neutral, third-party arbitrator.  Now the university wants the right to terminate “without cause”, to have the employees serve at the will of their supervisors.  The administration calls this a 21st Century Human Resources approach.  Apparently they are looking forward to the 21st century being a lot like the 19th century of the robber barons.

             Finally, the administration’s offer is take-it-or-leave-it:  To get the $750, AFSCME has to agree to waive their rights and protections, their grievance and arbitration process, and their right to termination only if the administration can prove just cause, or else the administration will remove the salary offer after June 30.  The administration figured that USPS workers are so impoverished that they will demand the money and give up the rights they have had for years.

             The AFSCME leadership called a meeting last Thursday so that the bargaining team could get guidance from the bargaining unit.  The room was packed with the biggest turnout anyone could remember, with more participating by teleconferencing on the BBC campus.  After full discussion a straw vote was taken and the vote was unanimous against accepting the administration’s offer.  Several USPS employees saw the importance of a strong union and joined AFSCME at the meeting. 

            We salute our brothers and sisters in USPS for their courage and intelligence.  All of us at FIU are under the same attack.  We are natural allies and we will defend ourselves together.  Anything the UFF can do to assist AFSCME, we will do.  Faculty can help this process along by encouraging our coworkers to join their union and to support their bargaining team.

Alan

Previous bargaining reports are archived at the UFF-FIU website:  http://www.uff-fiu.org/

-- 
Alan Gummerson
President, FIU Chapter
United Faculty of Florida
Office: DM-315B
Phone:  305-348-2381
email:  alan.gummerson@uff-fiu.org
Fax:	305-567-1943

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[last updated: June 20 2005]