Administration Declares Impasse
On Friday, April 8, only a few hours after the latest bargaining session ended, the FIU administration unilaterally declared an impasse in negotiations with the United Faculty of Florida.
This action comes as no surprise. The whole attitude of the administration toward bargaining has been one of “take it or leave it” from the very beginning: take the proposal we are offering or we will leave it to the Board of Trustees to impose it on the faculty anyway.
A meeting for the entire bargaining unit to come together to discuss the implications of impasse and how the faculty and librarians can continue to fight to defend what we have had for 27 years will be held Wednesday, April 20, 12:15 pm, in the West Ballroom of the Graham Center, UP campus, with pizza and soda provided. Featured speaker will be Steven Weinberger, the Executive Director of United Faculty of Florida statewide. Weinberger is an attorney with many years of experience with labor law, and will be able to explain the steps UFF is taking to fight for our rights.
As I've reported in previous bargaining reports, the administration has insisted that many terms and conditions of employment previously protected by the collective bargaining agreement should be moved to policy—unenforceable through grievance and arbitration. They have repeatedly insisted that UFF waive its right to bargain contract language on these matters if we are to have any input into these issues at all. We have consistently warned the administration that such tactics and demands run afoul of legal requirements.
Despite our concerns, UFF has tried to avoid delaying bargaining with lengthy legal battles. We have tried in every way we can to make the process work. However, we have also been in contact with our attorneys to prepare to take whatever steps we must to protect the rights of faculty and librarians to a fair and serious contract negotiation. As we move forward with these steps over the next days and weeks, we will keep our bargaining unit informed with regular updates and information.
Why Impasse? Why Now?
It is particularly noteworthy that the administration should declare impasse after Friday’s bargaining session, since several major issues were still being actively negotiated. On the question of Academic Freedom, the administration has never explained why they object to having it extend to speaking out on questions of university governance, or to the right of an individual faculty member “to speak, write or act as an individual, all without institutional discipline or restraint.” We emailed our latest proposal on Academic Freedom—which met what they claimed to be their objections on other issues—to the administration’s team prior to Friday’s bargaining session, but they have yet to respond.
Prior to last Friday's bargaining session, we also e-mailed the administration team a revised proposal for grievance and arbitration. To try to allay administration concerns about arbitration, UFF has proposed an interim step involving a hearing before a faculty committee which would send a recommendation to the President.
We hoped that the decisions of a faculty committee would make resort to a neutral, third-party arbitrator even less frequent than it has been in the past—about once every three years. While the administration's Chief Negotiator said she found the proposal interesting, she and her team had not yet had an opportunity to discuss UFF's proposal and respond.
So where is the justification for declaring impasse, before their side can respond to our “interesting” proposals? We are forced to conclude that the administration declared impasse not because progress at the table was impossible, but because they think the impasse procedure favors them and that they can impose what they want on us.
MOU on Salaries
Despite the declaration of impasse, the UFF remains hopeful that a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) can be arrived at on salary increases for this year, while the rest of the collective bargaining agreement is being sorted out. Both sides traded proposals on an MOU at the bargaining session on Friday, and we emailed our latest proposal to their chief negotiator on Sunday. She has promised to respond soon.
Our latest proposal calls for a 4.5% cost-of-living raise, retroactive to October 1, 2004. Theirs is for a 3% across the board and 1% merit raise, but taking effect only on March 4, 2005. We have dropped our proposal for a merit increase this year, even though we continue to favor merit increases based on department-developed procedures and criteria.
It has been more than two years since the majority of faculty have received raises of any kind. Most members of our bargaining unit have watched their real incomes decline while the administration awarded discretionary raises in 2003-04 to reward the 37% of faculty it deemed to be "meritorious." UFF believes that cost of living increases must take priority over merit in this stop-gap agreement to provide raises during this prolonged period of negotiation over the rest of the contract.
Further, because of the administration’s delaying tactics, only three weeks remain until the end of finals. If merit raises are to be done right, departmental committees would have to do an enormous amount of work before faculty scatter for the summer. Given the circumstances, we think the best solution now is a raise to prevent everyone’s real wage from dropping due to inflation. But we think the raise ought to be a real one, with retroactivity to last fall, rather than to March 4, a bare two months before the 9-month year ends.
Another sticking point on the MOU is that the administration wants us to waive claims that may have arisen due to unilateral changes in compensation that we believe have been imposed illegally over the past several years. The main issue here is summer pay. The College of Education in May of 2003 cut pay for a second summer course to only $4,000. Since this was a violation of the last collective bargaining agreement, a number of faculty filed grievances.
Our recent victory in the District Court of Appeals makes it very likely that the university will owe back pay to those grievants. We are unwilling to sell out those grievants to get an MOU. The cost to the university would be small, but the cost to these grievants was substantial, and the principle that the university must respect the collective bargaining agreement is important.
Thanks to the Bargaining Team
Finally, let me take this opportunity to thank your bargaining team. Professors Lorna Veraldi, Joan Baker, and Paul Warren have worked tirelessly, without release time from their full teaching and research obligations, and without compensation, for over two years. They prepared and presented a full slate of proposals, and took seriously their duty to bargain in good faith. Despite this effort on behalf of the faculty and the university, they have been confronted by an administration apparently motivated only by ideology, determined to take away faculty rights regardless of the damage it will do to the university.
One of the things we should do at the upcoming meeting is to recognize the bargaining team and show our appreciation. Remember, Wednesday, April 20, 12:15 pm, in the West Ballroom of the Graham Center, UP campus, with pizza and soda provided. Featured speaker will be Steven Weinberger, the Executive Director of United Faculty of Florida statewide. See you there.
If you have not yet shown which side you are on, a UFF membership form may be downloaded at uff.form.html