In my last report I explained the attack on tenure that was contained in the Board of Trustees' bargaining team's proposals on lay-off. I am pleased to report that due to the overwhelming negative reaction on the part of the faculty to those proposals, the most offensive parts of them have been withdrawn. They are still not acceptable. While lip-service is given to not laying off tenured faculty as long as non-tenured faculty remain in the unit, "the university" has the right to decide whether faculty no longer fit the needs of programs. In other words, they are still trying to gut tenure.
But there is an important lesson to be learned from this episode. When faculty make their opinions known, the Board of Trustees' bargaining team gets the message. I reported their gut-tenure proposal to you on July 29. By August 9, the Provost wrote in his welcome-back letter to faculty, "Given the many questions that I have been getting, I want to reiterate that academic freedom and tenure are basic pillars of the modern university--critical to academic inquiry and the life of the mind." In the ten days or so between my report and the Provost's letter, enough faculty had reacted with shock and outrage that the Provost signaled that a change was coming to the bargaining table.
In other words, no matter how cogent our arguments at the bargaining table--and your Chief Negotiator, Lorna Veraldi, continues to do an outstanding job--the only voice the other side really hears is the collective voice of the faculty itself. If the faculty is passive and uninvolved, we will not be able to bargain a good contract. If the faculty supports its bargaining team and makes its voice heard, an excellent result is possible.
Another question that begs to be answered from this episode is: If tenure is a "basic pillar of the modern university", then how did a proposal to essentially do away with tenure get into the BOT team's lay-off proposal? Do those who decide the BOT team's positions understand the modern university? Are they listening to those who do, especially those who are part of their bargaining team but who seem to have no role in preparing their proposals?
Evidence that the answers to these questions is "No", comes also from the negotiations over the grievance procedure. In early June we presented our proposal for a grievance procedure, which consisted of minor changes in the relevant article in the previous agreement. Both the UFF and the Provost's office (judging from their comments in the past) believe that the grievance procedure has worked very well at FIU over the past quarter century. We see the procedure as a problem-solving mechanism. When a faculty member believes that she has received an unfair evaluation from her chairperson or dean, or an unfair assignment, or class schedule, she usually agonizes over how to proceed, since the faculty member and the chair or dean are colleagues, and will need to continue to work together, hopefully in a collegial way. After a few days she may call the union and inquire about filing a grievance.
The unions's grievance chair then tries to initiate discussions among the parties, usually involving the Provost's office for help, to solve the problem informally so a grievance never has to be filed. This process has been facilitated by the provision in the previous collective bargaining agreement that a potential grievant has thirty days after the alleged violation of the agreement to file a grievance. In one year just before the bargaining agreement expired, nineteen potential grievances were taken up, all were solved informally, and not a single grievance was filed. Our position on the grievance procedure is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Chief Negotiator for the BOT team, however, ignored the article on grievances in the previous agreement, and wrote his own proposal from scratch. He proposed drastically reducing the filing period from thirty days to five days and then to seven days. We explained that this would force the union to instruct the faculty to file grievances the instant a problem arose, which would not only clog the pipeline with grievances, but would also lock all parties into defensive positions that would make much more difficult the informal resolution of grievances. We believe it is a proposal that could only be made by someone unfamiliar with how well FIU has dealt with these problems in the past. We suspect that the proposal is part of a strategy to bankrupt the union by forcing grievances to arbitration, where the parties must share substantial fees for an outside arbitrator and other costs. Their proposal also excludes disciplinary cases from resolution via the grievance procedure!
As a result we refuse to accept their proposal. Despite the fact that we put the grievance procedure on the table in early June, and that it has received more table time than any other issue, we are still not close to agreement.
Of course, the lack of progress is also due to the BOT team's reluctance to bargain. They have agreed to only two half-day sessions since mid-July. Despite UFF's urging at the latest bargaining session that the parties meet at least weekly during September in hopes of concluding negotiations by October 1, the BOT team has responded to a list of 18 possible September dates on which UFF's team promised to be available by accepting only one--a half-day session on September 15. We understand that it is difficult to find mutally convenient times for bargaining sessions; UFF's team is working around teaching schedules on two different campuses. however, it is hard to see how any progress can be made if, in response to UFF's 18 proposed dates in the month of September, the BOT team accepts only one. This, by the way, has been the pattern since we first tried to schedule a pre-bargaining session in January. The UFF team--volunteers working around teaching schedules--has proposed dozens of dates, few of which have been acceptable to the BOT team. (See my previous bargaining reports, archived at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.bargaining.html.)
We will have the opportunity for a full discussion of what is happening at the bargaining table and how the faculty can help move the process toward a decent outcome at the UFF Chapter Meeting, Wednesday, September 8, 12:30 pm, Faculty Lounge (Room 220), Green Library, UP Campus. The meeting is limited to UFF members, but new members may join at the door.