The ongoing labor negations between USF and the faculty union have begun to vex both sides of the debate, becoming the most tumultuous and lengthy in recent memory. Despite this, both sides remain committed to finding a solution before the current contract expires June 30. Presented in this article are explanations of the collective bargaining agreement and the issues surrounding the debate.
How do the contract negotiations work?
The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and a bargaining team representing the University’s Board of Trustees (BOT) have been in negotiations since early June to reach a deal on the annual reopening of the current three-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Though the agreement – which covers all faculty and staff employed by the University – is valid for three years, it contains a clause that allows the items of faculty pay and benefits to be re-openedannually for renegotiation.
What is the sticking point?
The main point can be summed up in two words: compression inversion. Compression inversion occurs when experienced employees’ salaries fall below 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 positions. Because of this, many experienced faculty have found their salaries falling behind the national average as determined by an Oklahoma State University (OSU) study.
Where does the University stand on this?
USF has offered a plan that would raise 15 faculty members with 25 or more years of experience to within 80 percent of the OSU average with a maximum annual salary increase of $5,000.
This leaves five faculty members with 30 or more years of experience well below the 80 percent mark.
As part of USF’s proposal, these faculty members would undergo a peer review process similar to that of the tenure evaluations to secure the extra money needed to reach the standard.
The proposed panel would have the ability to increase the questioned faculty members’ pay beyond the $5,000 at its discretion. Their final decision would go before the BOT, but would be binding.
What is UFF’s stance?
Simply stated, the faculty union would like to see all of its members paid at least 80 percent of the OSU standard.
According to UFF chapter President Roy Weatherford, the union disagrees with the conditional raises for the five faculty members in question on the grounds that any external evaluations erode UFF’s ability to protect its members.
Each of the faculty members in question have had at least six consecutive annual performance ratings of strong or better, which the union sees as justification alone for the raise.
The process could also be used to discriminate against people that have a history of being critical of the administration, Weatherford said.
According to chief union negotiator Robert Welker, the Board of Regents – a disbanded statewide governmental board that was succeeded by the Board of Governors and individual universities’ Board of Trustees – raised all faculty members in the State University System (SUS) to the 80 percent mark some years ago.
What are some of the outlying issues?
There are three outlying issues pertaining to faculty benefits that have yet to be officially agreed upon: course assignment for faculty members’ immediate family, paid paternity leave and domestic partner benefits.
Though faculty members are currently able to attend two free courses a semester at USF, the union is pushing for the same benefit to be extended to faculty members’ spouses and children.
They are also asking for a six-month paid paternity leave for each employee and domestic partner benefits, such as the health care option extended to married couples.
Why isn’t USF agreeing to these requests?
Administrators are willing to investigate the feasibility of all proposed benefits, but cite a number of budgetary concerns, which is why they must be investigated first.
Each issue is financially compounded by the fact that even though UFF bargains only for union members, every eligible faculty and staff member is covered by any changes made to the benefits package. This means that the University must extend any negotiated rights to most full-time staff members.
According to officials, the course assignment issue may not be feasible financially because every time a student is enrolled in a course at USF, the University must pay the state a certain amount of money.
Administrators say they have to find money to cover these costs before such a proposal can be approved. The issues of paid paternity leave and domestic partner benefits hinge on the same budgetary concerns.
Domestic partner benefits are different from spousal benefits in that the state doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships, and therefore won’t contribute money to cover this type of benefit. Thus, the University must come up with nearly three times the amount of money to cover the requested benefits, administrators say.
Administrators have agreed to either form committees to investigate or write memorandums of understanding to pursue each item further at future CBA talks.
Why doesn’t UFF just table the issues?
According to Welker, administrators have offered the formation of committees in the past with less then stellar results.
It is the union’s stance that it won’t pick and choose what to sign on, but rather will sign on a whole package including agreements on these benefits and a salary.
It is Welker’s stance that if the union signs any part of negotiated articles and then the salary issue goes to impasse, the union will have lost its ability to pursue the extra options, severely limiting its bargaining power.
The union is willing to consider agreeing to the University’s plans to investigate benefits further if the two sides can agree on the salary issue.
A date has yet to be set for the next annual renegotiation meeting, and as soon as an agreement is reached, the teams will begin negotiating a new three-year CBA.