They drive a hard bargain

It has been 13 months since members of the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) began negotiating faculty contracts with the University Board of Trustees (BOT) – a process that has yet to come to a close.

“We have been at it for several months now,” Associate Provost and member of the BOT bargaining unit Kofi Glover said. “It seems to have picked up, and I really don’t think it will take several more months. From my viewpoint, it shouldn’t. The union has not put an obstacle in the way of what we’re proposing, and that is encouraging.”

In a six-hour bargaining session Friday, UFF members brought several changes to the faculty contract to the table: unauthorized leave, salary and “relief time.” One agreement was made.

“We reached an agreement that faculty who disappear on an unauthorized leave – faculty who are not attending conferences or other programs – if they do that for 12 days during the regular semester or if they leave 20 percent of summer classes, which would be two class sessions for summer classes that meet once a week, then they will be considered to have abandoned their job,” terminating their employment, Glover said.

Issues of pay during “relief time,” which is time that union officers spend away from their job to participate in union activities, were met with resistance from the BOT.

“Our point is that the state should not be paying for union activities,” Glover said. “So we are not going to give them that.”

It is the discussions of articles such as this that have prolonged the salary agreement, Glover said, and the possibility of a special state legislative session to evaluate a billion-dollar deficit does not bode well for UFF’s requests.

“If we have to wait to see what the Legislature does, I am afraid they will not get a salary increase because it is absolutely clear that if the Legislature decides to meet there will be a new budget and there will be a reduction in what state-funded universities receive,” he said. “If that happens, we will have to find areas to cut. Other universities have laid off faculty, and we keep saying we don’t want to lay off faculty, but that also means we cannot give salary raises.”

Because the entire contract is being amended, any major changes will not come into effect until an overall agreement is reached and approved by the UFF and BOT. Glover said only five articles remain on the table.

However, Sherman Dorn, president of USF’s chapter of UFF, said that several articles have been agreed upon and were immediately placed into effect.

“In December, both sides agreed to change the benefits article to add domestic partner health insurance and to add early retirement to the program, and in February, we agreed to a memorandum for a promotions structure, for people who are in line to receive promotions and, (June 25) we agreed to a memorandum of understanding that, once ratified, would allow bonuses for faculty and implement an expansion of sabbaticals immediately after ratification,” Dorn said. “A lot of articles were agreed upon to just continue with the status quo.”

According to Florida statutes, any changes that are made to the faculty contract cannot be in effect after three years – a deadline that is well prepared for by annual “union and management” article discussions, Glover said.

“Bargaining is always a slow process,” he said. “Particularly when one side or both sides want to make some major changes, then it takes a much longer time, and hard economic times make it that much more difficult. There is very little that we do that does not eventually have monetary implications.”

For Dorn, who said the UFF will continue to bargain items like workload issues, promotion restructuring and issues arising with summer salaries, the bargaining has been beneficial thus far.

“In contrast to other years, I think everyone looks around the rest of the state,” he said. “We don’t have layoffs, we’ve enhanced the working lives of faculty and I think people understand that these are very hard economic times, so it’s hard to put a package together on salary issues.”

A date has not yet been set for the next bargaining session.

“Everything we have been able to come to an agreement for I’ve been happy with,” Dorn said. “We’re just going to chip away at the remaining areas.”