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 United Faculty of Florida-Seminole Chapter

Frequently Asked Questions About YOUR Union

Some faculty members at Seminole State College have been members of the United Faculty of Floirda (UFF) for many years. The administration has been aware of this as UFF Central Floirda Service Unit Director, Michael Moats, has represented some of those faculty in meetings with the administration in the past year or so. What Seminole faculty have lacked are an actual chapter of the UFF and recognition by the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) as collective bargaining agent for faculty. Finally, faculty are on the brink of gaining both a chapter of their own and an opportunity to vote on whether we want collective bargaining and the job protections that come with that.

After years of such "at-large" member status in UFF, many of us decided it was time to move forward with a campaign to petition PERC for recognition and bargaining rights In visiting with our colleagues during the collective bargaining campaign faculty members have asked a number of questions about the union and how union representation could advance the interests of the faculty. From the questions posed, and from those that will continue to be asked, we have put together these answers in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Coming from the Seminole faculty who are union members, these answers are obviously an argument in favor of collective bargaining through our union chapter. They represent our best judgment on these issues and our firm conviction that collective bargaining will improve our working environment and our profession.

Why a union?

Faculty form unions for a variety of reasons. Compensation is usually not the major reason for the creation of an academic union. In most cases, the issues center on the ability of the faculty to have a meaningful voice in creating the policies and procedures affecting its professional employment. PERC and Florida Statutes refer to these as "tems and conditions of employment" and once a union is recognized by PERC, bargaining of these "terms and conditions" between management and the union is mandatory.

It is not uncommon for groups to be formed among professionals for such common purpose. Whether it is the council of college presidents, or a business society, people sharing common interests or goals organize to develop policies they believe will protect and advance the groupís purpose.

In most cases, the frequently heard words are respect and recognition. Faculty form unions when they feel the current mechanisms of shared governance are not sufficient for them to assert their proper role and do not allow them to make meaningful contributions to the governance of the institution, particularly on those matters that affect the terms and conditions of their professional employment.

It is very important to understand that the union is US! We are the faculty who join together for the common good and to negotiate for the benefit of all faculty. The union is NOT an outside, third-party, that comes in and does this for us. Yes, we would become part of the statewide UFF - the higher-education local of the Florida Education Association (FEA) - and that benefits us through statewide power and access to statewide resources. But, we will run our chapter, we will negotiate our contracts - again with the assistance and guidance of the UFF staff, we will elect our own officers, we will create and maintain our own bylaws, and we be a force within our college for the good and welfare of our faculty.

What is this card I've been asked to sign?

The simple answer is that the card is a petition to PERC to recognize UFF as the collective bargaining agent for faculty at SSC. When PERC verifies that at least 30% of the faculty in the proposed bargaining unit (all full-time faculty: instructional, library, and counseling) have signed the petition card, they will notify the administration and seek recognition of the bargaining unit.

The hope is that when the administration knows the overwhelming percentage of faculty members who have signed the card, they will voluntarily recognize our chapter of UFF and begin to negotiate with us. Voluntary recognition is not likely though, and thus PERC will then hold a secret ballot of members of the proposed unit and upon a majority vote, issue a certification of the bargaining unit.

I'm scared of what will happen when the administration finds out I signed a card. Should I be?

The administration will never know who did or did not sign a card. They are confidential and are provided only to PERC. PERC verifies the card-signers against a list of the proposed bargaining unit provided by the administration. Once verified, if there are at least 30%, PERC seeks recognition either voluntarily or via a secret ballot/election of the members of the bargaining unit as explained above.

Public employee unions in Florida operate under the Public Employee Relations Act (Chapter 447, F.S.) which establishes the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) which oversees unions and management in public employee issues. All these details are contained in Chapter 447 F.S. and related PERC administrative rules. Employees are well protected.

Why the union campaign now?

We feel that the growth and evolution of Seminole State College has reached a point where a more formal structure of governance is required to advance and protect faculty interests. Yes, the Faculty Senate provides some shared governance in academic issues, but the senate's ability to deal with wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment is severely limited. Fortunately, these are the very areas that the Florida Statutes empower unions to engage the administration in mandatory bargaining. And, there are many other areas in which we can represent faculty interests: grievances, evaluations, tenure, and myriad policies and procedures. There is no one big issue driving the campaign. Rather it is the accumulation of events and issues in recent years that have led to our decision.

Hazarding examples raises the danger that an issue may be perceived as essential, but we believe faculty understand that specific matters and the manner in which some issues have been resolved raise questions of whether proper consideration is being given to our professional judgments on the conditions of our academic employment.

The obvious issues that come to mind are the facultyís role in determining the definition and nature of professional growth and development; a clear articulation of the components of the IPS plan; the existence of a viable and fair grievance procedure to resolve issues; workload, office schedules, advising hours, and length of contract; use of personal leave; creating a salary schedule that will maintain consistent salary growth; and providing a sufficient and affordable benefits package.

Why is having a written contract better than the current system?

Our current system of standing committees and the Faculty Senate have addressed these issues and can continue to address academic issues. The role of the committees and the Senate are only advisory, however. Shared governance in this environment extends only to those areas that the administration is willing to share the policy making role.

In terms of policy, the Board of Trustees has the authority to make or change a policy within 30 days. By established Board policy, the president can develop any procedure to execute Board policy. In neither case must the faculty be consulted or, if consulted, have its ideas made part of the resulting policy or procedure.

With collective bargaining, a contract is produced through the good faith efforts of both parties. Contracts put the collegeís policies and procedures into writing. Any changes must then be negotiated. At the present time, we just get a letter saying workload has been altered or a benefit has been changed. For example, the college has in the past eliminated the disability insurance benefit and suggested eliminating the life insurance benefit, cut the step increments in half, and increased workload, all without consulting the faculty or rejecting the facultyís advice on the issue.

We want the contract not only to define the terms and conditions of employment, but also to set the model for negotiations for when the time comes, and it will, that a new administration is put in place by the Board. Even in the best of institutions where the president is very faculty-oriented a union and a union contract are essential. Each president seeks to modify policies and procedures to fit their own management style and idea of what is best, the latest fashion in education, or the political climate. A contract gives continuity and direction. It also insures that changes will be made with deliberation and negotiation, not on impulse and intuition.

A look at Brevard Community College, their president, and their chapter of the UFF, will clearly show that even with a pro-faculty president, the union and a contract is important in that provide guarantees in the event of administrative changes.

How will a contract protect against unfair treatment?

One of the chief benefits of a contract would be the creation of a balanced and fair grievance procedure. Under our current system, faculty member has little or no opportunity to appeal unjust or unfair treatment including termination. Faculty receive no assistance, and if legal counsel is desired or required, the faculty member pays for it. Joining UFF - without bargaining recognition - helps somewhat in that UFF provides representation in such situations and can provide legal assistance when needed. However, their assistance is limited to the scope of the existing policies and procedures. And they cannot do anything to change those. Creation of a bargainin unit and recognition by PERC gives us the power and authority to bargain those terms and conditions.

Under collective bargaining agreements, the faculty and the administration will set up the procedures for filing a grievance, the members will get the assistance of a union representative, and if legal counsel is required - such as in a termination or suspension - faculty will receive free legal assistance.

If the grievance cannot be resolved in-house, then the parties chose a neutral third party, a professional arbitrator, who will hear the matter and render a decision that is binding on both parties. This is binding arbitration. The decision of the arbitrator must be accepted by the Board as final.

Because the final decision is in the hands of a neutral third party, and because the fees charged by the arbiter are usually split between the college and the union, there is greater incentive to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution without going to binding arbitration. The vast majority of grievances at union colleges are decided at that level and in favor of the faculty.

How will a contract affect layoffs?

Nobody likes to hear it, but in these economic times some institutions are looking at layoffs to control costs. While the administration has the prerogative to hire and fire, the contract can stipulate procedures and other conditions. Most contracts have some sort of point system or list of conditions that determine how reductions in force are conducted. These systems are negotiated and subject to the approval of faculty at the time the contract is voted on.

We have no doubt that maintaining all full-time faculty jobs is the top priority of both the union and the college administration. Job security is essential.

If the financial situation should require layoffs and a union member is laid off, the member can consult with the union with respect to whether the contract procedure was carried out and/or if there may have been an illegitimate reason for the layoff, e.g., discrimination on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, or, yes, union membership. If you are in one of these protected classes, the union will challenge whether your layoff was legal. Without union membership, if you feel you have been discriminated against, then you are on you must file and pay for your lawsuit.

On the issue of discrimination or a hostile work environment, the union contract can negotiate an expansion in the number of protected classes beyond that cited in state and federal law.

How will having a union affect collegiality on campus?

We expect that the level of collegiality on this campus will not only remain high, but likely will increase. With contract negotiations and the opportunity for faculty to vote on the contract, we will solicit input from all faculty and expect that all parties will conduct respectful and civil negotiations. We see no reason for any other behavior. We are adults and professionals. We all should be able to resist using the tactics of fear and division and reject management by anger and incivility.

How will the administration respond to the idea of having a union? Won't that make things worse for us?

The administration would be expected to express pessimism on the collegiality questions. Other administrations at other colleges have made it clear that they do not believe collective bargaining can be conducted collegially, that conditions will become adversarial, and that the union cannot help faculty.

We would hope that the administration understands that faculty have the same right to a contract that the college president has. Would the president of this college, or any other for that matter, accept such a position without the details in writing? Why would they demand a reasonable, negotiated contract, and then deny us the same right?

But this is not a contest or a game to the union. This is an opportunity to come to the bargaining table as equals, to lay out our concerns and ambitions, and to work with the administration to address and achieve those things that we believe will protect and advance the professional interests of the faculty at SSC.

No one should view a union vote in personal terms; no one should think that a reasonable response would be to retaliate or punish faculty for choosing collective bargaining. We believe we can work together with the administration, we will make our best efforts to do so, and we will never engage in a campaign of fear, intimidation, anger, or vilification. This is business, our profession. This is our livelihood. Collegiality and respect for one another as human beings must be the guiding principles.

What legal protections are offered with membership in the union?

In addition to the benefits noted in terms of grievances and layoffs, union members have a $1 million professional liability insurance policy to protect them from liability resulting from their employment. If a situation arises where a law suit is brought by a student, the administration, or any other person with respect to actions of a faculty member, this insurance policy will pay any judgment against the union member up to $1 million. This means your assets are safe in such a suit.

Even if you win a law suit, legal expenses can be quite high. Union members receive free legal assistance with the union paying all legal fees. These benefits are yours win, lose, or draw.

If you are not a member, then it is up to the college whether it will defend you and pay your legal fees. The state policy gives the Board or the state discretion on whether to provide legal costs and indemnity for damages. The administration can leave you to your own devices, particularly if it dislikes your actions or is concerned about public opinion. The administration has other issues to consider; the union thinks only about your interests.

Some faculty may have their own professional liability policies, but most of these cover you only if you win the case. If you lose, then the damages and the legal fees are yours to contend with.

Who will serve on the bargaining committee?

Union members serve on the bargaining committee. However, all faculty can make proposals to be presented in bargaining, and we expect we will work closely with the Faculty Senate to develop issues to bring to the table. We will be assisted by UFF every step of the way. UFF provided the Brevard Community College chapter services of a professional as chief negotiator in their recent negotiations. They will do the same for us. The union has a duty of fair representation; it must represent all members of the bargaining unit in negotiations whether they are union members or not.

Once a contract is negotiated, all faculty in the unit, union members and non union members, get to vote on the contract. If the contract is accepted it stays in force until renewal. If the faculty reject the contract, the bargaining team survey the faculty to discover their issues and makes the necessary modifications in the union position.

We will survey all faculty before beginning bargaining and reflect the concerns of all faculty in the negotiations.

Will there still be a Faculty Senate if we vote for Collective Bargaining?

The union believes the Faculty Senate is essential to consider matters on which the union does not represent the faculty. The union negotiates on issues of wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment. That covers a lot of issues, but not all. Most important are issues of curriculum and programs, the heart of the college. We need a Faculty Senate for these and other matters. In fact, the union can work to negotiate contract language that mandates continuation of the senate and clearly establishes their role in such academic and curriculum issues.

How does the union work through the legislative process for the betterment of the community colleges?

The UFF and all affiliated organizations including the FEA, NEA, AFT, and AFL-CIO have lobbying efforts on the local, state, and national level. The union works to improve funding for colleges and to implement other policies that will improve education and assist students, particularly on the issue of financial aid.

The UFF, and their state affiliate - the FEA, even provide opportunities to faculty members to assist with lobbying the legislature. They provide training opportunities to members on how to talk with legislators, how to advocate for your faculty, and through "member-lobbying" efforts many chapters send members to Tallahaassee for a week to talk with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

The union works with other organizations, including FACC, and political leaders on issues of common concern.

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