Bargaining Begins on New Contract

On Tuesday, March 26, the Bargaining Team of United Faculty of Florida (University of Florida chapter) met with representatives of the UF Board of Trustees to open negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current three-year agreement will expire on December 31, 2019.

The UFF Bargaining Team began the session with a prepared statement. Co-Chief Negotiator William Keegan introduced the Bargaining Team’s plan to fight for a CBA that helps make UF a more just, secure, and productive workplace. More specifically, Dr. Keegan announced the Bargaining Team’s goals. These goals include:

  • Job security and a streamlined promotion process for non-tenure track faculty
  •  Higher pay and better working conditions for P.K. Yonge faculty
  •  Paid family leave
  •  Pay equity and cost-of-living raises, and
  •  Stronger tenure protections for tenure-line faculty.

Dr. Keegan concluded his statement by announcing the Bargaining Team’s intention to modify the following articles of the CBA: 3, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 28, 30, 32, 33, and 35, as well as Appendices A, B, E, and F. The BOT team then offered their own list of articles to negotiate, which includes articles: 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21.

The BOT team announced, moreover, that it could not discuss salary or pay until the state legislative session concludes in May. And, more distressingly, the team revealed that it would not be prepared to discuss family leave until the fall. Despite signing a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2016 agreeing to “establish a task force to develop a comprehensive leave policy for the campus,” the Board of Trustees team still has no meaningful policy proposal in hand.

The session closed with the UFF and BOT teams tentatively scheduling future bargaining sessions on April 2 (2:00 -3:30pm / 210 Pugh Hall); April 16 (2:30-4pm / 150 Pugh Hall); April 23 (2:30-4pm / 112 Library West); and April 30 (2:30-4pm / P.K. Yonge). Both teams agreed to introduce modest changes to the CBA during the April 2 session.

Click here for the full text of Dr. Keegan’s opening statement.

Bargaining Session Two: 2 April 2019

The Bargaining Team of the United Faculty of Florida (University of Florida chapter) met for the second time with representatives of the UF Board of Trustees (BOT) on Tuesday, April 2. Both parties had previously agreed to discuss modest, uncontroversial changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement during the April 2 session.

Some of the BOT’s proposed changes did, in fact, represent modest changes to the CBA. In addition of updating university terminology and correcting stray typos, the BOT team proposed welcome language outlining the university’s commitment to hiring faculty from historically marginalized groups [proposed change to Article 12.1 (a)]. They also offered a proposal to prevent the university from stringing along visiting professors on an endless series of one-year appointments [proposed change to Article 12.4 (i) (1)-(3)].

Nevertheless, the bulk of their proposals represented a subtle but dramatic assault on the principle of shared governance as well as the union’s institutional independence.


An Assault on Shared Governance

The most threatening of the BOT’s proposals took aim at departments’ ability to choose their own faculty. Ostensibly intended to lighten the load of UF’s overtaxed search committees, the BOT’s proposal would require that only one-half of a search committee’s members come from the college conducting the search [proposed change to Article 12.2 (c)].

This proposal departs dramatically from the current requirement that three-fourth of a search committee’s members comes from the department conducting the search. If this proposal were to take effect, members of the department conducting the search could be wholly absent from their own department’s search committee; and administrators from outside the department could play an even larger role in job searches than they already do.

While the UFF Bargaining Team recognizes that many of our colleagues are currently overtaxed, we’re unconvinced that the current situation demands fundamental changes to the structure of job searches. After all, most of the current searches are connected to the 500 one-time job openings UF announced last year. The current rush of job searches, in other words, will likely return to a slow trickle in the near future. Faculty members, therefore, would be foolish to abandon a foundational principle of academic governance to solve a problem that will probably disappear before the new CBA takes effect.

In addition to the BOT’s proposed changes to search committee composition, they also introduced tentative contract language that would require departments to vacate their existing departmental bylaws, develop new ones by the end of the upcoming contract period (2022), and revise their bylaws every three years thereafter [proposed change to Article 9.1 (d)].

Here too, the UFF Bargaining Team recognizes that the BOT’s proposal respond to a real problem: many departments’ bylaws are, indeed, out-of-date, ill-suited to faculty members’ needs, or fail to comply with provisions of the CBA. But the UFF Bargaining Team believes that the current proposal is too inflexible and fails to respect departments’ right to self-government. The UFF Bargaining Team therefore rejects the BOT’s proposed changes. Instead, we argue that departments should have the ability to reauthorize their existing bylaws; and that any changes to departmental bylaws should be specifically aimed at bringing these regulations into compliance with the CBA.


An Attack on the Union’s Independence

In addition to their attempts to erode norms of shared governance, the BOT also proposed changes with negative implications for UFF’s institutional independence. Specifically, the BOT team proposed contract changes that would strip the faculty union of its ability to finance its own release time [proposed change to Article 4.4]. Currently, the small number of union release time units that faculty members receive are paid for by the university itself. UF pays for these units because, historically, it has recognized union activity as part of a faculty member’s rightful responsibilities. As such, the university provided release time to enable select members to devote their full attention to shared governance and collective bargaining.

In addition to this university-financed release time, however, the union has also retained the right to finance it own faculty release time. Retaining this union-financed release time is essential to the well-being of the United Faculty of Florida. Should the state or federal government pass legislation or enact regulations prohibiting university-financed release time, the union must have an alternative means of doing so. Retaining this right, therefore, is a matter of both principle and pragmatism: if administrators can get paid for their role in shared governance, representatives or labor must be able to do the same.

Finally, the BOT team proposed changes that would strip UFF of its right to deduct voluntary union dues from members’ paychecks if such an activity were banned by state or federal law [proposed change to Article 5.8]. At first glance, this proposal looks uncontroversial. But, in fact, it’s quite insidious. Under the terms of this proposal, UFF would be directly subject to state and federal law rather than Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). This distinction matters because PERC has historically functioned as a buffer between anti-labor politicians and labor unions themselves – protecting the latter from the punitive or unconstitutional efforts of the former.

Practically speaking, then, the BOT’s proposed language means that, were the state or federal government to enact legislation stripping unions of their right to deduce dues (an approach the state legislature attempted with teachers’ unions in 2011), UFF would immediately lose access to members’ dues – even if PERC or another judicial authority ultimately found the law unconstitutional. Intentionally or unintentionally, the BOT’s proposal thus puts the faculty union in a position where state or federal legislators could instantaneously deprive our institution of its financial lifeblood.  

By contrast, the UFF Bargaining Team wants contract language ensuring that UFF’s right to automatically deduct members’ voluntary dues remains intact until the end of the new CBA – regardless of the whims of state or federal law. Such an approach accords with accepted legal principles, which hold that new laws or regulations cannot retroactively invalidate the provisions of a collective bargaining contract.


UFF’S Proposals

The UFF Bargaining Team arrived at the negotiating table with its own set of proposed changes. Most of these changes were – in accordance with the UFF and BOT teams’ informal agreement – largely routine. The UFF Bargaining Team, for instance, proposed several changes that would ensure faculty members or departmental administrators with uncommon titles are covered by contract language that refers to deans or department heads. The UFF team also offered up some modest changes that would make it easier for retired or emeritus faculty to access health or recreational facilities [proposed changes to 25.9 (a) (5)]. And lastly the team proposed contract language that would define the term “just cause” according to the terms of a frequently-cited court decision [proposed change to Article 27.1 (a)].

Far more consequentially, the UFF team told BOT representative that it plans to allow various contract “waivers” to expire at the end of the current CBA. The term “waivers” refers to contract passages in which the union has voluntarily “waived,” or ceded to management, one or more of its legal rights.

Jettisoning these waivers serves two purposes. First, many of these waivers are bad in their own right. But, just as important, waivers are valuable bargaining chips. Several of these waivers, for instances, pertain to activities the UF administration regards as indispensable — including the ability to determine discretionary salary adjustments for administrators. By threatening to pull them, the faculty union gains useful leverage.

Allowing these waivers to expire therefore represents a win-win for the faculty union. If we succeed in eliminating them from the contract, we win a superior CBA. If not, we can at the very least make the administration “buy” these waivers back: trading contract changes favorable to UFF in exchange for retaining one or more of the existing waivers.

Click here to view UFF-UF proposed contract changes.