Faculty union wants in on bargaining process

Nearly a week has passed since Gov. Jeb Bush’s inauguration, which occurred on the same day as the implementation of a new governance system as well as a new set of regulations for Florida. But what hasn’t become finalized is the future of USF’s faculty union.

Faculty union president Roy Weatherford spoke to faculty at a meeting that was closed to the public Friday about the implementation of the Board of Governors.

The new Board has the authority to be the public employer of the union, Weatherford said.

But because the Board of Governors delegated the power to bargain a new contract to the Board of Trustees, Weatherford wants to be sure the union is present to negotiate from the beginning.

Weatherford said the problem is that USF’s administration still fails to recognize the collective bargaining agreement when a new contract hasn’t been worked out.

The faculty union’s contract expired Jan. 7, and a set of 16 temporary rules addressing misconduct were put in place for 90 days.

“The administration continues to try to claim that the contract is no longer in force,” Weatherford said. “But our position is that management can’t break a contract just by reorganizing itself.”

Media relations director Michael Reich said the BOT’s structure only affects the bargaining process.

“None of that is true. The contract expired, so it doesn’t exist,” Reich said. “Reorganization has nothing to do with the fact that the contract expired. The way reorganization comes into play questions who will be bargaining on behalf of the university.”

Weatherford said he doesn’t want to prejudge the Board. He said he is willing to give trustees the benefit of the doubt that they will protect faculty with a new contract, whenever that will be determined.

However, there is a slight possibility that the faculty union may not agree with further decisions made by the Board, leading ultimately to a strike.

“There is some question about the possible legality of a faculty strike under the new system,” Weatherford said.

But a strike would not be possible, Weatherford said, unless a majority of the faculty is angry at the administration.

“A majority of the employees have clearly said they want the contract to continue, but they have not yet become convinced that it is impossible to work with the administration.”

Reich said he doesn’t see faculty going on strike any time soon.

“We don’t expect that would happen. We don’t think faculty would disrupt the students’ education,” Reich said. “We expect to have an amicable bargaining process. The sky isn’t falling, regardless of what Dr. Weatherford has said.”

Reich said the union still has to be certified by the Public Employee Relations Council to take part in the bargaining process.

Until a new contract is formed, Weatherford said the union intends to participate in forming new rules of misconduct for faculty.

Weatherford said that the current temporary rules violate the contract and the union is insisting that the BOT negotiate any proposed rules first.

“The faculty have political and moral importance in the university, and there is some evidence that by speaking out, we have already forced the administration to withdraw some of the most odious of the proposed rules,” Weatherford said.

Still, Weatherford has stated before, along with the faculty union, that the rules are a risk to university employees. And the collective bargaining agreement could affect faculty recruitment.

At a BOT meeting Thursday, Provost David Stamps said a plan to expand USF’s technology and research studies, presented by Carl Carlucci, vice president for budgets, human resources and information technology, would help build a strong faculty base for USF.

Weatherford said he agrees administration needs to be aware of faculty conditions in the liberal arts.

“Our most overworked faculty are primarily in the liberal arts, where budget cutbacks have led to an under-staffing in areas less important to industries and corporations,” Weatherford said. It is possible, Weatherford said, that administrative decisions could affect faculty recruitment in the fall.

“It depends upon the new Board,” Weatherford said. “If they continue trying to turn the university into a service support operation for corporate interest, staffing for liberal arts will continue to worsen.”

But Reich said the BOT’s intentions are to operate a strong university.

“I think the Board is trying to run the university like a national research university,” Reich said. “(The Board’s plan) strengthens the university, and we plan on moving forward on all of that.”