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Union members protest after collective bargaining stalemates

Faculty members attending Provost Ralph Wilcox’s fall faculty assembly on Thursday were met at the door by United Faculty of Florida (UFF) union members dressed in academic regalia – an act of protest after 14 months of faculty contract negotiations with the University Board of Trustees (BOT).

Brightly colored fliers emblazoned with political cartoons and bold type informed attendees of the union’s concerns with the BOT’s recent collective bargaining proposals – a declaration of “impasse” on two articles and a June 26 salary proposal that was taken off the table after “two or three hours,” said President of USF’s chapter of UFF Sherman Dorn.

“They are the ones who declared impasse,” Dorn said. “We have patiently been bargaining for a year, and have been making small agreements to make improvements – we were in no rush. They declared impasse even before they put any salary articles on the table after the legislative session, so then we tried to reach agreement on articles that weren’t as controversial. We successfully did that, but … right now, we don’t have a salary proposal. I don’t really know what the heck is going on with that, but I figure that’s their problem, not ours.”

An “impasse special magistrate hearing” has been scheduled for Aug. 26-27, where a neutral party, a lawyer with background in arbitration and collective bargaining, will hear testimony about the issues that have brought the bargaining of six remaining articles to a standstill and then recommend a course of action, Dorn said. The special magistrate is chosen jointly by the union executive director and the chief negotiator for the BOT.

The meeting follows an announcement from the University of Florida chapter of UFF that it reached a salary agreement earlier this month with its BOT. However, USF’S UFF members are not the only ones looking to UF as a fiscal example.

“If only we had the same number of faculty members at this institution, a proportionate number of faculty members at this institution, as our neighbors to the north and certainly across the nation have, you can imagine where we would be flying,” Wilcox said during his address. “Our institutional progress will be stifled if we are not able to significantly improve our student-to-faculty ratio in the years to come.”

Despite hiring more than 100 faculty members this semester, Wilcox said that federal expenditures have more than doubled from $94,000 a decade ago to $195,000 per faculty member two years ago, putting USF as the highest in the state.

Even though the university budget is likely to decrease in upcoming years – the governor has asked all state agencies to plan for a 5 percent mid-year budget reduction and a 15 percent cut beginning July 1, 2011 – Wilcox said USF remains the only public research university in the state of Florida that has avoided academic program and department closures and layoffs of tenured faculty members.

However, Dorn said his main concern is with the treatment of instructors.

“The thing that worries me most is that the BOT proposal for instructor promotions is to have raises that are significantly lower than promotion raises for tenured faculty and librarians. Instructors, along with graduate students, do a disproportionate amount of undergraduate teaching,” Dorn said. “The difference between the two parties on the instructor promotion track is probably less than $100,000 per year

“This is pocket change, essentially, to the University, but it means a great deal to these instructors, and it really upsets me that the University has a graduation rate of less than 50 percent and they think they can improve it by shortchanging the people lowest on the totem pole in full-time faculty.”

However, Associate Provost and member of the BOT bargaining unit Kofi Glover said the severity of the economic climate should still be taken into account when considering salary raises.

“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 Gregory McColm, a mathematics and statistics professor and UFF bargaining team member, the answer lies in the same principle that attracted him to teaching – working together as a part of an academic community.

“There is a story that after World War II, Dwight Eisenhower became president of Columbia University, and he invited some of the more famous faculty members to meet with him,” McColm said. “Among them was I.I. Rabi, a Nobel Prize-winning citizen. Eisenhower said he wanted to tell them how proud Columbia University was of its employees and Rabi said, ‘General Eisenhower, we are not employees of the university, we are the university.’ Now, that’s a bit narrow … but the point is that a university is a community. There is no greater honor in being a provost than there is in being a janitor … It is important, no matter what the legal climate is, for people to remember that they’re part of a community and keep that perspective.”