Collective bargaining reaches ratification

Members of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and Board of Trustees (BOT) bargaining unit may finally see an end to 16 months of debating faculty contracts – at least for the next three years.

On Friday, the bargaining unit agreed upon the final language of six remaining articles in the agreement. Now, the changes, which would be in effect for three years, have to be ratified by both parties.

Sherman Dorn, president of USF’s chapter of UFF, said an “impasse special magistrate hearing,” where a neutral party – a lawyer with background in arbitration and collective bargaining – heard testimony about the issues that brought the bargaining process to a standstill, helped expedite the process.

“We were in the afternoon of the second day and there was a short break, and … I have been told that the special magistrate stood up and said, ‘You know, I think, in all impasse cases, it’s far better for the parties to come to an agreement than to go through the end of the impasse. I think the parties really need to take an opportunity to talk. Would it be appropriate for me to leave the room to make that possible?'” Dorn said. “He left the room, the hearing suspended for a short time and we came to an agreement.”

That agreement includes a domestic partner health insurance stipend program, which was implemented through a Memorandum of Understanding in January, an increase in the ratio of one-semester full-pay sabbatical slots to eligible tenured faculty members and a continuation of supplemental summer teaching pay, with a cap of $12,500.

In addition, the agreement preserves the language of the original layoff policy, continues offering a 9 percent base raise and doubles the flat amount of base raises for promotions for tenured and library faculty members and sets promotion raises for instructors at 6 percent.

“Any agreement that comes out of impasse is going to have concessions on both sides,” Dorn said. “The part that pains me the most is that the promotional raises for instructors is not what we wanted … After the impasse process, the board clearly would have still imposed a 6 percent increase, and we really weren’t going to get anything more than that.”

Associate Provost and member of the BOT bargaining unit Kofi Glover said the board “did not hold back” on the promotional raises.

“It was the University that proposed the enhanced promotions package, and the union was agreeable to it,” he said. “Even in these hard economic conditions, the board thought that was the appropriate amount.”

The UFF will begin the ratification process through an online voting system “by the end of the week,” Dorn said. Faculty members will receive individualized codes to cast their vote before 5 p.m. Oct. 5, and the results will be available either later that night or the following morning.

“I think (UFF) will have more ‘no’ votes on this contract than we’ve had at any other time,” Dorn said. “Usually, we get 95 to 99 percent approval on ratification votes, but because this has some concessions, most notably on the structure of promotion raises, I suspect we will have a quantum jump in the number of votes.”

Dorn said he strongly recommended that union members ratify the agreement.

Glover said if the agreement is ratified by the UFF, the BOT must do the same during its Oct. 7 meeting. Once both parties ratify the agreement, it will take effect immediately, but the salary raises depend on how quickly paperwork can be processed, he said.

“The requirement in the agreement is that it will be 60 days after the board has approved,” Glover said. “But we are trying to work hard and make it effective even before those 60 days.”

If the ratification process fails, however, the bargaining unit would return to the impasse process, Dorn said.

“I will be much more relieved after it is ratified by both parties,” he said.