Members of the Faculty Collective Bargaining Unit,

The March 18 Memorandum from the Provost and the President on collective bargaining was extremely disappointing. Released just hours after the end of a bargaining session between the administration and the UFF, the memo makes clear that the administration has no intention of backing off from its assault on the faculty.

The Attacks Continue

The administration continues to insist that the faculty rights and protections that have been in the collective bargaining agreement since 1976 be removed and placed only in university policy. There are several problems with this approach. The main one is that faculty will no longer be able to use the grievance procedure—which ends, if necessary, with a decision by a neutral arbitrator—if a supervisor violates university policy.

What alternative procedure do they offer? For almost all issues the procedure they propose is the “FAIR” Process—Fast and Impartial Resolution Process. Fast yes, impartial no. Curious as to how it would work? Here it is:

“While most differences can be worked out amicably between the employee and his/her supervisor, it is important to have a process by which employees can seek to resolve what they consider to be unfair or inequitable application of University polices and procedures.

Employees must meet with their supervisors to discuss and resolve issues that they believe have adversely affected their employment. Human Resources must be consulted to ensure that no violation of applicable University regulation, policy or process has occurred.

So if you think you have been treated unjustly, unfairly, or inequitably by your chair, dean, or supervisor, what is your recourse? To discuss the problem with your supervisor, and consult with Human Resources. Any questions? If you don’t believe that’s all they are offering, you may go to the website where their proposed policies are posted, and check it out for yourself: http://www.fiu.edu/personnel/bargaining/PDF/uff_policies.pdf

Despite the new memo, the administration still has not explained what motivates this attack on the faculty’s right to a process that ends in front of a neutral third party. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees says it is because the university “wants to treat all of its employees equally”. Therefore, since employees not represented by a union have not had these rights and protections, they must be taken away from faculty who are represented by a union. Is it any wonder faculty are so outraged by the administration’s attacks?

No one in the administration, the Board of Trustees, or their bargaining team has ever given a single reason for eliminating the grievance and arbitration method for resolving disputes. No one argues that it was working badly. Their chief negotiator admits that only six cases ended up before an arbitrator in her eighteen years in the Provost’s office. Most disputes were resolved informally before grievances were even filed.

We are led to the conclusion that the motive is to eliminate the union so that administrative decisions can be unfettered.

What is alarming is that the president is willing to pursue this strategy despite the certain damage it will cause to the university. We are all aware of colleagues who are giving serious thought to leaving FIU because of the anti-faculty attitudes they perceive in the administration. News of the continuing attacks by the administration on the faculty will spread in the academic community, making it even more difficult to lure promising academics to FIU. And for what? What problem is the president trying to solve? Apparently, he cannot say.

Salaries

Both sides had agreed at the beginning of the bargaining process last May to hold off on salary proposals until the end. The union knew salaries would be contentious, and hoped to agree on other less difficult issues first. Before either side presented their salary proposals, both sides heard a presentation by FIU’s chief financial officer, Vivian Sanchez, who made a strong case that times are tough this year.

The administration then presented their proposal, which shocked us in at least three ways. First, the proposals were not retroactive, but were to take effect only on March 4, 2005, the day they were proposed. It should be remembered that the last statewide negotiations took place in the spring of 2002, and that raises went into effect in October, 2002.

We have kept the bargaining unit well aware of the delaying tactics of the administration’s team all last summer and fall. Now the delay seems to have been part of a strategy to postpone salary increases to the end of the year rather than the beginning. The “budget” for 2004-5 had no provision for salary increases, for example. Strange budget. By contrast, the recently negotiated raises at the University of South Florida were retroactive to August, 2004.

Second, their proposal was for a three-year agreement. Until now, the statewide agreements were always for just one year, and the three other state universities who have signed agreements all have one year contracts.

Third, the proposed salary increases seemed especially small, particularly for a proposed three year agreement. The administration trumpeted a 10% salary increase. On closer inspection, however, the guaranteed raise turned out to be much less.

The administration originally proposed for 2004-5 a 2% across-the-board and a 2% merit increase, effective March 4, 2005. They modified their proposal for the first year at the last bargaining session, but only to switch funds from merit to across-the-board, so their current proposal is for 3% across-the-board and 1% merit. For 2005-6 they offer 1% across-the-board and 2% merit and for 2006-7 1% across-the-board and 2% merit.

So they are proposing a guaranteed 5% raise (3% +1%+1%) over three years, plus another 5% (1%+2%+2%) for those deemed meritorious according to departmental merit criteria. It is unclear what percentage of the faculty would be eligible for merit increases. You may remember that in 2003 the merit increases went to only 37% of the faculty.

We don’t doubt that times are tough this year at FIU, what with trying to pay back the $11.5 million of unaccounted-for HCET funds, pay the lawyers who worked on HCET ($2 million, we hear), plus pay the interest on the funds that are borrowed to make the payback, etc. But to try to lock the union into a three-year proposal, with the second and third years getting even less than the first year (which everyone agrees has become a bad budget year), while all the economic forecasts are predicting increased inflation ahead—it all seems pretty cheeky. We were underwhelmed, to say the least

Before presenting the union’s salary proposal, we had Dr. Toby Berk, on phased retirement in the School of Computer Science and our bargaining consultant, present the financial picture as we saw it. He began by comparing our salaries with our peers. Compared with the 99 public doctoral research intensive universities in 2003, FIU salaries for assistant professors put us in the 52 percentile, for associate professors the 35 percentile, and for full professors in the 27 percentile. Full professors would need a 7.8% increase in salary just to bring them up to the median for these universities.

Toby went on to show that because we have not had raises since October, 2002, we have fallen further behind. Furthermore, in that year, when the average faculty member got a 4.1% raise (2.5% across-the-board from the legislature, 1.6% special merit), academic deans got 8.5%, the Provost received 12.2%, and the President 41.1%. Finally, he reported the cost of living increases for the last three years: 1.4% in 2002, 2.9% in 2003, 2.8% in 2004. Read Dr. Berk's report.HTML or Power Point

The union’s original proposal was for a one-year salary increase, retroactive to the beginning of the academic year. Our proposal is a structured one, with an across-the-board raise to cover the cost of living, then promotion raises, departmental merit raises, raises for market equity, and discretionary raises for counter-offers, special awards, and the like.

We also propose to keep summer pay in the contract on the same terms as before—pay for a course in the summer must be equal to what it pays in the fall or spring. The administration doesn’t want to discuss summer pay. It wants to put summer pay in policy only, not in the bargaining agreement, and has indicated that only the first summer course would get full pay this summer, with second courses paying only whatever money is available. We can only imagine what summer pay will be in the future, if it is left to administrative policy.

Our structured approach was derived from the results of a survey of the entire bargaining unit that we conducted in the fall of 2003. More than a third of those sent the survey responded (a high proportion for surveys), and the overwhelming majority responded that all faculty should receive raises to keep them even with the cost of living before only some get merit raises. Most responders clearly felt that raises for some should not be financed by allowing the after-inflation incomes of others to decline.

Our proposal thus starts with a 4.5% across-the-board raise, retroactive to the first pay period of 2004-5. 4.5% is the increase in the cost of living in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale from October 2002—the date of our last salary increase from the last statewide bargaining—to August, 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

Our structured proposal goes on to specify a 9% raise for promotions, the same as in the last statewide agreement. When the administration reduced their departmental merit proposal down to 1% for this year, we did the same. We moved the effective date to November 1, 2004, rather than the beginning of the academic year, while the administration’s proposal stays at March 4, 2005. Our proposal sets out strict guidelines that must be followed in evaluating merit according to assignments, and lets an elected committee of unit members decide what proportion of the unit should receive merit raises.

We propose 2% of the salary pool for market equity raises, targeted for those furthest behind national standards, to address problems of compression and inversion, but moved the effective date forward to November 1, 2004. For reference, salaries for the bargaining unit total about $60 million, so 1% of the pool is about $600,000. Finally, we specify 0.5% for discretionary raises, for verified counter-offers, special awards, etc., down from our original proposal of 1%.

You may remember that in December the union proposed that since bargaining had already dragged on for so long, a Memorandum of Understanding should be agreed to that would allow some raises to go into effect immediately, while the rest of the agreement—including further salary increases—was still being bargained. The administration rejected this proposal then.

Then two sessions ago, the administration said they were interested in a Memorandum of Understanding on salaries. We were intrigued. But when we discussed their intentions at the last session, it became clear that they wanted a three-year memorandum of understanding covering salaries. We have never heard of a three-year memorandum. Memoranda are temporary agreements, until a full agreement can be reached. It became clear that what they are after is a three-year memorandum on salaries, so that they can force the rest of the contract to impasse.

We are still interested in a one-year memorandum to get raises to the bargaining unit soon. We intend to try to continue to bargain salaries, just as we intend to try to bargain—i.e., attempt to reach agreement—on the rest of the collective bargaining agreement. We trust that the bargaining unit will not be swayed by administration arguments like “we tried to give you raises but the union refused.” Such tactics are standard in Management Bargaining 101, so look for their use soon.

Academic Freedom

The President’s memo trumpets the administration’s proposed article on academic freedom, as if the administration’s willingness to include it in their proposal shows what an enlightened position they have taken. In fact, however, their proposal falls short of what is needed, and what the University of South Florida has already agreed to. The administration refuses, for example, to recognize the right of a faculty member “to speak, write or act as an individual, all without institutional discipline or restraint.” Instead, the administration would limit academic freedom to a faculty member’s “own academic subjects”.

The union, however, understands that the administration needs a strong academic freedom article to protect itself as well as the university from those who would demand that a faculty member be silenced or fired for articulating unpopular views. The administration needs to be able to point to the collective bargaining agreement and say “We wish we could fire her but we can’t.”” An enlightened administration would surely understand this as well.

They also refuse to recognize the right of faculty “to speak freely on all matters of university governance”. We wonder why. Surely they don’t intend to get their way by intimidating us into silence?

Compromise

Finally, the President’s memo calls on the union to “compromise”. This is particularly outrageous, given the administration’s approach to bargaining. The union’s proposal has always been to start with the previous statewide agreement and bargain parts that needed changing. That agreement was a compromise, the result of 27 years of bargaining between the UFF and the Board of Regents, in which each side had to compromise in order to reach agreement.

The administration’s team refused to start with the statewide agreement of compromises, refused to discuss changes in the articles of the previous agreement, submitting instead articles of one word: “VACANT”. Their whole approach is to refuse to bargain the seventeen articles they want to take out of the contract.

When we propose to bargain an article, say on “Evaluations” or “Discipline”, their team says no, we have no intention of bargaining that since our proposal is “VACANT”. “We will just have to agree to disagree on that,” says their chief negotiator. We point out that bargaining in good faith implies trying to reach a compromise, not agreeing to disagree. Agreeing to disagree is a strategy which looks forward to impasse, not reaching a compromise agreement.

So it is particularly outrageous that this administration, which has pursued a strategy of confrontation from the day the previous contract expired, which has an extremist position out of step with every other university in the state, whose very strategy refuses to seek compromise at the bargaining table so that it can attempt to impose its radical destruction of rights and protections at impasse, calls on the union to compromise. How dare they try to paint the union as the radicals who refuse to compromise? We are confident the university community knows who the extremists are.

Alan

If you have not yet joined the union a membership form may be downloaded at http://www.uff-fiu.org/nindex.php/uff.form.html.

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[last updated: March 27 2005]