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United Faculty of Florida chapter elects new president

Amid grievances with the University and possible disbandment, a new executive committee for the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) was named during its meeting Friday.

Current President Sherman Dorn will continue to helm UFF until Friday, when he turns the reins over to President-elect Paul Terry, an educational leadership and policy studies faculty member at USF Polytechnic.

Terry, who ran for the one-year presidential term unopposed, will head the new executive committee, consisting of Vice President-elect Sonia Wohlmuth, Secretary-elect Gregory McColm and Treasurer-elect Arthur Shapiro, all from USF’s Tampa campus. Terry said once his term as president begins, he will appoint Robert Welker, who is also from USF Tampa, as UFF chief negotiator. Welker is the incumbent in the position.

Terry said UFF represents approximately 1,644 in-unit faculty and professional employees within the USF system – employees he would like to see become union members.

“Just in the last few weeks that we’ve been doing campaigns, our membership has grown from about 400 members to 486,” Terry said. “The biggest initiative right now involves increasing membership.”

McColm said adding members to the union would provide them with more power in dealings with the University.

“The experience of unions nationwide is when the majority of employees become dues-paying members that union has a lot more clout,” he said. “Management becomes more reasonable in both grievances and in bargaining, so we believe we would be much more effective in representing the faculty and professionals at USF if we had majority status.”

Adding pressure to the recruiting process is House Bill 1023, he said, a piece of proposed legislation that would decertify unions if the majority of the population the union represents aren’t actually dues-paying members by July 1.

If the bill passes, UFF would need to recruit about 337 more dues-paying members before the cutoff date to remain active.

“UFF believes that this is unconstitutional, and we are disturbed that the Legislature would seriously consider posing and considering unconstitutional laws,” McColm said. “On the one hand, we would fight it legally, but that would take years, so we believe the best way to deal with the prospect of this legislation is simply to get a majority of people to join so it wouldn’t apply to us.”

Welker said the current three-year contract governing the relationship between UFF and the University will not expire until August 2013. In his opinion, the University will continue to honor in-unit contracts even if the house bill is passed, he said.

“We don’t expect the University to try to wiggle out of that, but if the union is decertified before we can win in court, the question is whether (the University) legally can enter into any agreements with unions,” Welker said. “These are legal questions. People say, ‘Is this uncharted territory?’ (My answer is) absolutely.”

If the bill passes, Welker said union members could file their own grievances to the University if they thought their contract was being violated. However, the union could not do it for them in a unilateral way.

USF is no stranger to union-related grievances. Dorn said UFF currently has filed two pending grievances with the University.

One grievance pertains to thesis and dissertation bonuses that some faculty members receive. For every student conducting a thesis or doctoral dissertation for whom an in-unit member supervises, that member would get a $250 bonus per student, up to a certain amount, Dorn said.

“They want to set some requirements on that, that they did not clearly enough put into the language of the contract,” Dorn said. “The second grievance is about the distribution of merit pay.”

Dorn said that while contract language pertaining to merit pay is nearly identical to language in UFF’s previous contract with the University, there is “evidence that their distribution of merit pay was different in fall (2010)” than it had been during the 2009 academic year.

“Some people got less than they should have gotten, and some people probably got more,” he said. “Our proposal was no one loses money. Those people who were underpaid get moved up, those people who were overpaid do not lose a cent.”

Dorn said he’s confident that if brought to an arbitrator, UFF would win both cases.

“We’re willing to settle to give them a significant part of what they want with the thesis and dissertation hours in return for settling the merit pay grievance so that people who were underpaid get what they deserve and what they earned,” he said.

Terry said negotiations with USF should run smoothly, especially since both organizations are facing proposed cuts from state legislators.

“We want to focus on having a cordial and collegial relationship between the faculty union and the administration,” he said. “Right now, we’re all under attack. We have a common enemy right now, and it’s called cutting budgets.”