Bargaining advances; negotiators optimistic

As the ongoing labor negotiations between USF administration and the faculty union drag on into their 10th month, representatives from both sides agreed that tangible progress was made for the first time in more than four weeks.

Members from bargaining teams for both the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) and United Faculty of Florida (UFF) left Monday’s meeting optimistic.

“There was a fairly significant move, not as much as we would like of course, but certainly some movement which might give us theopportunity to be creative,” said UFF chief negotiator Robert Welker. “The whole problem here is to be creative, is to try to find some middle ground, some language that doesn’t compromise the principles of either side.”Though the meeting stood in contrast to the last – two hours compared to 15 minutes – the major point of faculty evaluations to help eliminate compression inversion remains.

Compression inversion is a natural phenomenon of the business world in which those people who have been employed for long periods of time see their pay rate drop behind the national average while new hires tend to keep up. This is the result of the competitive nature of hiring practices as universities – or any business place – look to attract young talent. Bonuses and high salaries are offered in an attempt to lure new personnel while experienced staff receive regular raises well below the rate of the signing bonuses.

In an attempt to help right this trend, UFF proposed a formula through which faculty members affected the most by compression inversion might reach 80 percent of the average pay rate for their position, experience and evaluations as determined by an Oklahoma State University study (OSU).

The formula is not new, Welker said, but is similar to one used by the Florida Board of Regents in 1991 to bring every Faculty member in the state to 80 percent of OSU.

Though Welker said he would like to see every employee at USF paid at least 80 percent of OSU, a plan has emerged through negotiation through which every faculty member with 25 or more years of experience and an average evaluation score of four out of five for more than the past six years would receive money toward righting compression inversion.

The newest contract offered by administrators extends a 10 percent increase to those that meet the above criteria, as long as it doesn’t exceed the 80 percent of OSU mark. The contract includes a built-in review process for faculty members with over 35 years of experience by which they could receive the full amount after a peer review process.

According to BOT chief negotiator Kofi Glover, this faculty evaluation process is the main roadblock to an overallagreement.

How the debate is framed

At least four experienced faculty members stand to see raises far above an original $5,000 level proposed by the BOT team. These faculty members – all with 35 or more years of experience – could see their salaries increase up to $20,000.

Officials from the BOT team maintain that anytime a faculty member stands to see a raise of this magnitude, they face faculty evaluation processes. So they have suggested a peer review process, which administrators say will alleviate UFF’s fears of discrimination.

“The money is there,” Glover said. “Any time a faculty member is given that type of raise, we always take a look at their comprehensive record.”

However, UFF officials look at these evaluations as unnecessary and feel they may be used to punish experienced faculty members that are critical of the administration.

They suggest instead, the requirement that faculty members achieve six years of an evaluation four or above for six years is proof enough that experienced faculty members deserve to be paid 80 percent of OSU.

“It’s like you taking my class and you pass a test and for some reason I don’t want to give you the grade that you earned,” Welker said. “Then I say, ‘No, you have to come into my office and answer some more questions.'”

Though both negotiation teams recognize that there remains at least one point of major contention, they both have said they remain optimistic.