UF must recognize faculty union, court says; Board of Trustees still resistant
American Federation of Teachers
August 5, 2005--Many faculty in Florida start fall classes this year with two certainties: Their union contracts are tailored more specifically to their local concerns than ever before and the state constitution trumps the whims of politicians bent on denying them their rights. That knowledge is particularly comforting because until last spring, they were unsure they'd have contracts at all.
During two years of turmoil, during which the governor eliminated the state board of regents, the body with which United Faculty of Florida/AFT negotiated for faculty at all 11 state institutions, negotiations were thrown to individual boards of trustees and faculty contracts were up in the air. The board of governors, which replaced the board of regents, argued that as new employers they were not bound by the UFF contract. The UFF protested to the state labor board, which ruled in favor of the state.
But in February, in what UFF executive director Steve Weinberger calls a "ferocious" decision, the district court of appeals wrote, "State government cannot ... unilaterally terminate its obligations under a collective bargaining agreement simply by reorganizing the Executive Branch, where the employees affected perform the same work, in the same jobs, under the same supervisors, by operating the same facilities, carrying on the same enterprise, providing the same service."
And on July 27th, the Florida Supreme Court officially restored collective bargaining rights by refusing to hear an appeal of the district court's unanimous decision. This action has "real significance for faculty," says UFF president Tom Auxter. "It means that their rights have a legal foundation that cannot be altered capriciously by politicians."
In many ways, the upheaval has left the union strengthened--more than 70 percent of the faculty at every campus signed cards to reauthorize UFF as their local bargaining agent. At FSU, approval soared to 96 percent in a forced election. Localized negotiations have engaged more members and served them more directly, and membership has increased by one-third across the state. "Now we are negotiating strong contracts on each campus and have no desire to turn back," says Auxter.
On the other hand, "we expect full compensation for what faculty have been through," he adds. "We intend to find a remedy of every right that was illegally denied to faculty during this period and to collect on every resource that was illegally withheld."
One loose end that the court decision should tie up: the University of Florida is the only campus that has refused to recognize the union, despite a 72 percent card signing. Now that battle should be over.
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