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 United Faculty of Florida-Tallahassee Chapter

Frequently Asked Questions About YOUR Union

In visiting with our colleagues during the collective bargaining campaign, and in subsequent discussions, 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 TCC 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.

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.

Why the union campaign now?

We feel that the growth and evolution of Tallahassee Community College has reached a point where a more formal structure of governance is required to advance and protect faculty interests. There is no one big issue driving the campaign. Rather it is the accumulation of events and issues covering the past three administrations 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 can and have addressed these 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.

For those who are concerned about the presidentís recent comments to the effect that he will have a position on ďeach and every item of mandatory bargaining,Ē if the faculty votes for a union, consider that this is no different than the current situation where everything is already on the table. Once faculty have a contract, the administration cannot make any changes for the term of the contract unless we have agreed to a reopening of items. Our position would be not to have any items subject to a reopening unless there is a clear benefit to the faculty, because the purpose of our first contract is to lock in the salary schedule, workload, and terms of employment we currently have.

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. In the past 18 years we have had three presidents of this college, Hinson, Wetherell, and Law. (We believe Dr. Law becomes eligible for DROP in one year.) Each new president seeks to modify policies and procedures to fit the new management style, 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.

How will a contract affect the grievance procedure?

One of the chief benefits of a contract would be the creation of a balanced and fair grievance procedure. Under our current grievance procedure, faculty who file a grievance have a limited time to do so and must comply with very close deadlines at each step. The faculty member appeals to the very administrators who made the decision in the first place with the final decision being made by the Board. Faculty receive no assistance, and if legal counsel is desired or required, the faculty member pays for it.

Under collective bargaining agreements, the faculty and the administration will set up the procedures for filing a grievance, the faculty member may get the assistance of a union representative, and if legal counsel is required, faculty who are union members receive free legal assistance.

If the grievance cannot be resolved in-house, then the parties chose a neutral third party, a professional arbiter, who will hear the matter and render a decision that is binding on both parties. This is binding arbitration. The decision of the arbiter 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 or layoffs?

On the issue of layoffs, 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 remain high, and 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.

The administration, in meeting with faculty of the divisions, has expressed extreme pessimism on the collegiality questions. The president has made it clear he does not believe collective bargaining can be conducted collegially, that conditions will become adversarial, and he noted his experience at Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois in which he describe an environment of vilification.

He feels very strongly on this issue and has told faculty that although he is not presently considering any changes, if we vote for union representation he intends to have a position on each and every item of collective bargaining. He has said he will bring his A game and we should bring ours. (We have never seen the president with anything other than his A game).

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 TCC.

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 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.

Members of the union also receive free legal assistance if they must initiate a law suit based on their employment, e.g. discrimination, hostile work environment, personal injury. And members receive free legal consultation and reduced legal fees on a number on non-employment related matters, like family law, wills and trust, real estate, and other matters.

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. 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.

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 begin bargaining and reflect the concerns of all faculty in the negotiations.

Because of the impasse procedures, canít the administration impose contract terms?

That is true. Unlike the grievance procedure which ends with a neutral third party deciding the result, if the parties cannot agree on contract terms, the procedure is to go to impasse. Impasse requires that a Special Master agreed upon by the parties hear the disputed items and then reach a decision. In many cases the Special Master finds for the union position, but that is not the final word. Under Florida law the collegeís legislative body (the appropriating body) makes the final decision. In community colleges, the Board is the legislative body.

That means that the Board gets to decide on whose position, its or the faculty unionís, it will accept. Guess who usually wins?

Many Boards are quite fair and will give due consideration to the Special Masterís conclusion. In addition, the Board has to consider the morale of the faculty and how it will respond to the Board disregarding the Special Masterís opinion. Finally, any contract that is imposed lasts only one year. Then we get to go through the entire long, time consuming, and expensive process again. Sooner or later people start acting like responsible adults, treat each other with respect, and come to an agreement that is negotiated, not imposed.

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.

The Faculty Senate nominates faculty for the Standing Committees. The Faculty Senate site, which admittedly needs some updating, lists the following ten Standing College Committees: Academic Affairs, Campus Life, Communications, Coordinating Committee, Enrollment Management, Institutional Planning & Effectiveness, Professional Growth, Quality Enhancement Plan, Technology, and Welfare.

Of these ten committees, only two would have some of their functions come under collective bargaining Ė Professional Growth and Welfare Ė to the extent they affect wages, hours, or the terms and conditions of employment.

All the rest of the committees would continue to function so long as they did not take up any subjects of collective bargaining. Therefore there would still be a large and important role for the Faculty Senate and the Standing Committees. But the decision whether to maintain a Faculty Senate would be in the hands of the administration. We can think of no reason, other than an unlovely one, why the administration would want to deny the facultyís request for a continuation of the Faculty Senate.

In addition, although the Faculty Senate would not be able to discuss wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment with the administration, the union will need input from all faculty on these issues. The Faculty Senate could work with the union in developing proposals to address these issues, but only the collective bargaining team could present proposals in negotiation.

The decision on whether there is a Faculty Senate is not in the unionís hands. It is in the administrationís hands, and always has been. We must trust in the administrationís good faith and fairness. If the faculty want to maintain the Senate, we hope the administration will agree.

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

©2009 United Faculty of Florida