Worried union discusses Jan. 7 contract deadline

The unease among USF faculty members concerning the Jan. 7 deadline for the current collective bargaining agreement has grown during the past few weeks, despite reassurances from USF President Judy Genshaft.

And with it, a palpable distrust has seemed to develop between the faculty and administration.

During a USF faculty union town meeting Friday, faculty members learned that the sentiments at USF are shared around the state.

Tom Auxter, University of Florida philosopher professor and state president of the United Faculty of Florida, told faculty members Friday that the problem was highlighted last week at Florida State University.

Auxter said FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte was “caught on tape” telling the FSU Board of Trustees, which Auxter described as a “dangerous board,” that the university should push legally for a removal of the UFF.

Such a move, Auxter said, would essentially allow the university to let the current contract expire. Voluntary recognition by the board would lock in the present contract.

In addition, if the faculty recognizes the UFF or any other agency as its bargaining agent in the future, Auxter said negotiations with the university would start over from scratch.

“If we don’t preserve our current contract, we’re in big trouble,” Auxter said. “It’s no choice to have all your rights taken away.”

Auxter said a similar scenario is occurring at the University of Florida as well, and, despite what administrators say, is not faculty initiated.

“(It will) cancel the contract and start all over again,” Auxter said. “Meanwhile, it will give administrators the authority to cut us badly.”

USF faculty union president Roy Weatherford ran the town meeting, and explained to the faculty the nuts and bolts of what will happen Jan. 7. Weatherford said, from what he has ascertained, the current collective bargaining agreement, which has been in effect since 1976, will expire and become null and void on Jan. 7. The Board of Education will no longer be the official employer of USF faculty. That power will be given to the new BOT, which will be appointed or maintained after the November elections.

Weatherford said Florida Board of Education chairman Phil Handy told him in the past that the current agreement would be maintained until a new one is reached.

“That seemed to us a reasonable way to do it,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford said, however, Handy now says he never made any comment to that effect. He said, instead, Handy now says there will be no extension on the contract.

“From their point of view, the moment the contract expires, it literally expires and we go back to having no collective bargaining rights,” Weatherford said.

An example of what this would mean, Weatherford said, is the current summer pay agreement at USF, which he described as generous. The BOT, Weatherford said, has been trying to change summer pay. With no collective bargaining agreement, Weatherford said, the BOT could change the pay rate to whatever they would like without any negotiations.

Last week Genshaft said Weatherford and the UFF have no reason to worry and that agreements would be honored until a new contract is reached. Weatherford said he is, nonetheless, concerned.

“The president and the provost said it is not their intention to the end the contract or end our collective barging rights,” Weatherford said. “But they are not in a position to speak for the Board of Trustees, and they believe, they say, that they are not in a position to speak at all on collective bargaining matters because the university is not yet our employer.”

Weatherford said there is a serious danger to the contract.

“If they wish, they can get rid of every right we have,” Weatherford said.

The case of suspended USF professor Sami Al-Arian has consistently been one of the topics discussed surrounding the possible loss of the collective bargaining agreement. The agreement provides provisions for steps that must be taken when firing a tenured professor. If there is no contract, then administration may be able to act against Al-Arian on different terms.

For this reason, the town meeting voted to ask the UFF bargaining committee to bring a resolution to the table that would set,”the definition of just cause for firing a tenured faculty member through a concrete, exclusive list and the explicit prohibition against firing a faculty member for ‘disruption’ that is the responsibility of a third party.”

Weatherford said the reason for the suggestion to the bargaining committee is that the Al-Arian case has raised issues of due process rules.

“(The administration ) says (Al-Arian) has caused disruption in the university by himself receiving death threats,” Weatherford said. “Not that he himself disrupted the university but that the university was disrupted by the actions of others in response to what he did.”

Weatherford said such an action is called the “heckler’s veto.” He said that raises the question of whether any faculty member that takes an unpopular position can be fired if someone strenuously objects.

“We do not consider that that kind of event (allows) for the firing of an unpopular speaker,” Weatherford said.

Other issues discussed during the town meeting included the rights of non-tenured faculty and pressing for comparable pay rates with other state universities. In addition, faculty members expressed concern about Genshaft’s proposed 8 to 10 percent pay raise for 100 “top” faculty members.

Genshaft’s proposal calls for the best faculty members from all colleges to be given the raise as a sort of incentive. She said last week she is not sure if the money will be available for a similar raise in future years.

Weatherford said it is possible the raise will become a political issue at USF. He said it is difficult to dispute any sort of faculty raise, but that they must be within the bounds of the collective bargaining agreement.

“All pay raises must be negotiated,” Weatherford said.

The reason, Weatherford said, is that the Florida Legislature voted for a 2.5 percent across the board raise, and “nothing else.”

Weatherford said the raises should not be accepted without controversy because of another possible round of budget cuts next year.

“It is clear that after the first of the year, the budgetary concerns will be come much worse,” Weatherford said. “(When the UFF bargains for salary), they will probably say we don’t have much money.”

And because of that, Weatherford said the 100 raises could be the only ones awarded next year.

“The faculty needs to seriously ask, is that the best policy for the university,” Weatherford said.