As UF's new Board of Trustees claims they're a 'new employer' and moves to dismantle staff union
UF staff rushing to sign authorization cards to keep their union and their contract
University of Florida staff will lose their voice on the job, at least temporarily, unless they sign cards before January authorizing the staff union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), to continue to represent them.
Without a union to bargain for wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, the university has announced that it would move to a system in which staff could be fired at will.
On January 7, 2003, University of Florida employees were scheduled to have a new employer: the University of Florida Board of Trustees instead of the Florida Board of Education. Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature abolished the Board of Regents last year and gave authority for overseeing the universities to FBOE as part of an education plan sketched by the governor and house speaker on an infamous cocktail napkin at a restaurant. The Regents had angered the speaker and other legislators by opposing a new medical school and law school, so out they went. Following a transition period, local University Boards of Trustees were to take over next year under the Bush plan.
The new Boards of Trustees claim that they are not a "successor employer" to the Board of Education and therefore will no longer recognize any unions or honor any collective bargaining agreements. The union, AFSCME, has an agreement with FBOE that extends through June 30, 2003, by which time successor agreements were due to be negotiated with the local Boards of Trustees. UF now claims that AFSCME must get 30% of employees to sign cards calling for a union election, as if one had never been held here and staff had never elected AFSCME, and as if AFSCME had not negotiated contracts on behalf of the staff for decades.
Under labor law in existence since the 1930's, a successor employer inherits existing collective bargaining agreements. The successorship doctrine is normally applied following the sale of a company. The successorship determination is based on "the degree of continuity" between the old and new employers. Courts look at whether the business of both employers is essentially the same, whether employees are doing the same jobs under the same working conditions and the same supervisors, whether the same production processes and customers exist, and whether the new employer has hired a majority of the employees of the old employer.
UF has made it clear what it will do if it no longer has to negotiate with its employees. On October 18, Pres. Charles Young announced the creation of a new personnel system called Technical, Executive, Administrative, and Managerial Support (TEAMS) effective January 7. Under TEAMS, employees would be on annual employment contracts and could be fired for no reason at the end of that year. Instead of job security, they would receive some additional vacation time and a chance for their children to participate in a tuition lottery.
The administration is spending many thousands of dollars in its attempt to persuade employees to voluntarily give up their job security and union protection by moving to TEAMS. In a series of two hour meetings, Human Resources staff make false and misleading statements. They tell employees that "just cause" would still be needed to terminate them under TEAMS. In fact, just cause would only be needed to terminate them before the end of the year, and no reason would be needed to terminate them at the end of the year. They tell employees that UF wants them to have a choice-job security or more time with their families. In fact, employees have no need to choose, because with a union contract they could have both, job security and more benefits.
On November 5, Florida voters passed Amendment 11, which negates the Bush plan for university governance. The amendment creates a Board of Governors in the state constitution to manage the state university system. The new board's responsibilities include "ensuring the well-planned coordination and operation of the system, and avoiding wasteful duplication of facilities or programs" while delegating some powers and duties to local boards of trustees.
In TEAMS meetings, Human Resources staff say that Amendment 11 changes nothing and that they are going to proceed as planned. There are two ways to stop them: fighting a long legal battle and collecting enough union authorization cards from staff by January. Once cards are submitted by a union, an employer is prohibited from making personnel system changes and must maintain the status quo until a union election is held.
Signing the green cards will allow UF employees to remain with those from Berkeley, Harvard, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Princeton, Rutgers, UCLA, and many other universities, with the more than 1.3 million public employees throughout the country, who have chosen AFSCME as their union. The card and additional information are available on the AFSCME Local 3340 web site, www.afn.org/~afscme.
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