Professors join together to defend their contract
UF attempts to abolish faculty union
Candi Churchill
UFF Organizing Project
October 2002

The University of Florida is trying to take away the union rights of faculty, using the opportunity created by Jeb Bush's new "Board of Trustees" system. The union, which has negotiated for a better deal for faculty since 1976, is being told by the university that it doesn't really represent the faculty, and it must prove significant support by the time the current contract expires in January, or the university administration can refuse to deal with faculty representatives and impose whatever working conditions and wages it pleases.

For over 25 years, the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) has fought for and won many rights for professors, librarians, counselors and museum curators. Affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO) and the National Education Association and representing nearly 10,000 faculty, UFF negotiates for one of the largest units in the state. The contract which UFF bargains protects faculty from being at the whim of administrators and politicians who want to get rid of certain professors for their political beliefs, increase class size and workload, and make higher education more and more of a privilege, while continuing to overwork faculty and underpay them.

Under Jeb Bush's reorganization, governing authority of the state's universities transferred from the state Board of Regents to the local Boards of Trustees, and collective bargaining became a matter to be conducted independently at each university. UFF petitioned the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) to request formalization of this legislatively mandated change. PERC has granted similar modifications to UFF on at least two previous occasions.

Though ostensibly "independent and distinct" the Boards of Trustees at all 11 campuses, using nearly identical arguments about procedure, asked PERC to dismiss the United Faculty of Florida's petition to continue negotiating faculty contracts. The effect could be to take away the rights of UF faculty to negotiate their working conditions and to enable the Trustees to change those working conditions unilaterally.

Though administrators and board spokespersons claim to want "choice" and not to impose on workers who will represent them, what they really want is complete control without any voice from faculty. Faculty voted in favor of collective bargaining rights in 1976 and twice since. It is the Board of Trustees who are challenging the contract, not faculty. Florida State University has made it clear they plan to "change employment conditions" in their request to PERC.

If these board members and administrators want democracy and faculty voice on campus, they would be working with UFF right away and putting into place the many proposals faculty have put forward, after much deliberation, on salary increases, better protections for intellectual property, and more governing power for faculty, among other things. (You can see these proposals on our website). The supposed goal repeatedly stated by the UF administration of becoming a top-tier university is really just talk if faculty rights are trampled over and the contract revoked.

The Board of Trustees and PERC are appointed by the Governor. The Governor designed this reorganization plan of higher education not long after he laid off nearly 25% of state employees in his "service first" (or "service worst") fiasco, many of whom were covered by another public employee union, AFSCME. This is more union-busting, Jeb! style.

Because Florida is a "Right to Work" (for less) state, there are many obstacles and hostilities to overcome. Though every faculty member who is covered by the contract receives the raises and protections the union negotiates for, they don't have to pay in as they do in states without 'right to work' laws. This means the members of the union carry the load of advocating for all faculty, even those who don't pay dues and contribute. This means fewer resources when the union bargains contracts, nonetheless the UFF contract has some things in it faculty across the nation would envy. The contract is the only place tenure, sabbatical and summer pay, for instance, are legally protected.

This contract is due to expire on January 7, 2003, the day after the Board of Trustees assume power and Florida's universities (including UF) become "public corporations." Who are on the Boards of Trustees? CEOs, business owners, friends of Jeb!, and the Student Government President (the only elected person on the board). The make-up of the board doesn't reflect the people that make the university work - faculty, staff, and students.

UFF has launched an authorization card campaign (petition of support) and membership drive and will be holding public forums on related issues (the next one is Wednesday October 30th in CSE 121 from 4-5:30pm).

In order to save the contract, faculty need to sign an authorization card. In order to win a stronger contract with the Board of Trustees, faculty need to join UFF.

For more information, to get a card, or to help stop the union busting, contact 392-0274.

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