(This letter emailed to the UF bargaining unit on January 23, 2013)
Last week I reported to you that the Florida Supreme Court has overturned a Circuit Court’s ruling in favor of the Florida Education Association’s challenge to the constitutionality of the 3% mandatory employee contribution for state employees in the Florida Retirement System.
On the day the Court issued its decision, Governor Rick Scott said, “This is a great day for Florida families. The court’s ruling today supports our efforts to lower the cost of living for Florida families.” This on a day when 600,000 state employees and their families lost 3% of their income! A day also not long after they—firefighters, police, doctors and nurses, teachers, who make sure that we are safe, healthy, and that our children receive an education to enrich their lives and become good citizens—learned that their federal payroll taxes have also gone up substantially. As an example, state employees making $40,000 a year will now pay an additional $1000 towards their retirement, while losing cost-of-living adjustments once they retire. At the same time, their federal payroll tax has gone up by 2%. Effectively, they have sustained a 5% pay cut, a loss of $2,000 per year or $167 per month—and this after not having a raise in six years! A great day, indeed!
Clearly, this is a harsh burden for these families. But reducing public employees’ income and undermining their confidence in their employment contracts hurts not only them: it also undermines the state’s ability to recruit qualified employees to ensure the safety and progress of the state.
Unions, such the Florida Education Association and UFF, are the only organizations fighting back against these attacks on workers. We lost this case in a 4-3 decision at the Supreme Court, after a strong ruling in our favor in the Circuit Court. As both the judge in the latter and the dissenting opinion in the former emphasized, what was at stake was the principle of the sanctity of contracts—not just of collective bargaining agreements, but of any contract that was formerly considered to have legal force in Florida. If the state cannot be relied upon to keep the promises it makes, its ability to recruit the kind of employees it needs and the public deserves is seriously compromised.
When the mandatory contribution was imposed by the legislature, the UF administration offered a 3% “raise” to faculty to make up for it. Perhaps it did so in a genuine effort to help the faculty deal with the loss. However, the 3% “raise” was to came at the cost of reduced sick-leave and vacation benefits. Among other things, it afforded the administration a cheap way of accomplishing its long-cherished goal of doing away with sick-leave pay-out. UFF-UF took the position that giving up benefits for this “raise” would be a bad exchange. (If you have not yet done so, check with a colleague who has been at UF more than 15 years and do some calculations. Our team found that over time many would lose rather than gain from this “raise”.) While every year brings an opportunity to bargain for a real raise, once a benefit is lost, it is very difficult to win it back. We are committed to restoring our colleagues’ salaries without a loss in benefits.
UFF continues to work for faculty in Tallahassee, and at times DC, but it can be effective only with faculty involvement. The only way to prevent further erosion of our rights and benefits is to support UFF’s lobbying to head off future anti-public employee and anti-education bills in the legislature, and to defeat them should they emerge. In the past two years, we have defeated a number of bills, even if we could not defeat them all.
If you are a member of UFF, consider joining UFF-UF’s Government Relations Committeeto get more involved in the Union’s efforts to influence what happens in Tallahassee.
If you are not yet a member, consider joining. One clear way to resist further attacks on the faculty is to make sure that the majority of those UFF represents are members. Every member who helps in recruiting and every colleague who joins the union helps to achieve that goal.
We are in the midst of negotiating a new contract to replace the one expiring this spring. Our goals are, as always, to protect academic freedom and faculty rights, to enhance our benefits and to improve our working conditions. I hope to report to you on the outcome of these negotiations soon. In the meantime, my fellow officers and I welcome your opinion and advice.