Faculty union critical of pay raise delay

A delay in the negotiations for annual faculty salary increases may have rekindled hostilities between USF and USF’s faculty union leadership.

According to the leadership of the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, USF has refused to open negotiations with the union. USF officials say, however, that their hands were tied by wrangling in the courts and in the Legislature over whether universities had authority to bargain.

The disagreement follows a bitter two-year battle to agree to a new collective bargaining agreement that ended in December with smiles and handshakes after USF’s Board of Trustees ratified the new agreement.

UFF Chapter President Roy Weatherford said he did not understand why the administration was delaying the negotiation.

“It seems so pointless,” Weatherford said. “I don’t mind fighting when you have to fight, but why screw with peoples’ lives when you don’t have to?”

The collective bargaining agreement states that bargaining for the annual pay period beginning July 1 should have begun the previous October, although since the agreement was signed in December, the earliest the two sides could have negotiated was January.

But according to Associate Provost Phil Smith, USF was not able to bargain following a district court of appeals ruling in February that overturned a state Public Employees Relations Commission ruling which raised the issue that the original contract between UFF at state level and the since-abolished Board of Regents was still in force, especially as there are universities that have yet to sign a collective bargaining agreement with local union chapters.

The picture was muddied further by a bill passed by the Legislation in May to end debate over whether it or the Board of Governors, the body created by the voters in 2002 to administer higher education, should set tuition rates and fees. After the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, the BOG voted to delegate bargaining authority to individual BOTs at a recent meeting, a repeat of the decision it made in 2003, Smith said.

“Our attorneys and all universities interpreted that as the BOG had the bargaining authority,” Smith said. “Until they delegated that authority to the individual BOTs, we were out there in no man’s land not knowing if we had legal authority to move ahead or not.”

For Weatherford, however, USF’s caution was misplaced.

“Everybody agrees that the BOT have the right to bargain because it was delegated from the BOG (in 2003),” he said.

Smith said that with the legal obstacles out of the way, negotiations would begin quickly.

“Had it not been for the intervening events, we would have been back at the table some time ago,” he said. “Now that it’s clarified, we’ll be at the table soon.”

Even though any raises will likely be backdated, the delay still hits faculty in the pocket because of inflation and loss of interest, Weatherford said. The union will be negotiating to add to the 3.6 -percent increase mandated by the Legislation.

According to Smith, however, the legal arguments may not be over. Smith said the BOG’s decision could be challenged by any chapter of the union or its statewide body.

Such a challenge is unlikely to come from USF’s faculty union, however.

“We like bargaining with individual universities,” Weatherford said. “Our contracts are better, our membership is up; what’s not to like?”