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Talks stall over faculty pay, benefits

As the debate continues concerning the faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement, both sides have decided to air their concerns publicly.

Negotiations stalled Friday as representatives of the USF branch of United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and USF met in an attempt to make headway on the contract that provides for faculty pay and benefits.”On Friday (negotiations) went badly and the issues remain pretty much the same,” Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said. “But now I think there’s been, sort of, a public outing.”

As the result of a natural process of the business world termed “compression inversion,” fifteen tenured faculty members have been found to be at a pay level well below the national average for their positions at a Carnegie Foundation Research One University, as per an Oklahoma State University (OSU) study.

Compression inversion occurs when experienced employees’ salaries fall behind national levels while newer hires keep pace with the average. This is the result of the competitive nature of the hiring market, as bonuses and lucrative salaries are offered to lure successful professionals to fill open positions.

“The faculty, in our bargaining survey, said what they care the most about is correcting compression and inversion,” UFF chapter president Roy Weatherford said. “What they care least about is having more increases that cause this kind of injustice.”

According to Smith, USF offered UFF a deal that would bring these 15 faculty members – all with 25 or more years of experience – to within 80 percent of the OSU average with a maximum increase of $5,000 to their nine-month salaries.

However, this leaves five faculty members – all with 30 or more years of experience – between $489 and $17,069 below the 80 percent mark.

This has become the main sticking point in negotiations.

According to Smith, USF has offered a peer review process through which the faculty could be raised to the full 80 percent level. The process would resemble part of the comprehensive review process that faculty undergo to become tenured.”The money is on the table, it’s on the table for the taking,” said Smith. “Here’s the mechanism by which they can acquire it.”

However, union officials feel this process limits UFF’s ability to protect the rights of its members by allowing administrators to choose who they reward.

“We’re not going to argue that way; we are all in this together,” Weatherford said. “We’ve got to stop handing out raises here and raises there to people that (the administration) like(s). This is a union. This is a united faculty. We are going to have an agreement for everybody, or we’re not going to have an agreement for anybody.”

According to Weatherford, all faculty members undergo annual reviews, on which the five faculty members have been given good marks for the past six years. Weatherford said these provide adequate information to judge each employee’s merit.The debate was made public Monday when UFF released its “Bargaining Bulletin,” which outlined its positions on the CBA negotiations.

The Provost’s office replied with an “Administrative Update on Collective Bargaining,” of which two versions were produced. The first version, mistakenly released with all revisions and notes present, identified UFF chief negotiator Robert Welker as the faculty member that stands to gain the most from the talks.

This means Welker could potentially gain a salary increase of up to $22,000, or 30.6 percent per nine months as the result of the negotiations.

According to University’s chief negotiator, Associate Provost Kofi Glover, this doesn’t represent a conflict of interest.

“If the union members don’t see it as a conflict of interests then it is not a conflict of interests,” Glover said. “He is negotiating on behalf of the union and, if in doing so, he negotiates the largest percent for himself but the union members say, ‘good, at least you got us something,’ then it is not conflict of interest.”

According to Stetson University adjunct professor of law and Tampa employment lawyer Mary Li Creasy, it isn’t rare that chief negotiators on the side of labor in union negotiations benefit.

“It is not uncommon for a negotiator who runs a bargaining unit to be seeking advantages for the bargaining unit that will also benefit the negotiator him or herself,” Creasy said.

Smith emphasized the original update was never intended for public release.

“We have agonized about (the memo) going out in the form that it did,” he said. “We very much regret that it happened. I hope the message that was enunciated in the clean copy doesn’t get lost.”