Bargaining Issues: Benefits
Different people take different views of benefits. To
some of us, benefits are as essential as salary, and
to be scrutinized as thoroughly. To others, benefits
are an impenetrible thicket of legal jargon, to be
left alone on the presumption that when we need the
benefit it will, like magic, be there.
Let's begin at the beginning: what is a benefit?
A "benefit" in contract law is, according to Black's
Law Dictionary, a "legal right to which he would not
otherwise be entitled." Our employment contracts,
which would (in a previous century) entitle us to a
salary, now entitle us to "adequate and affordable"
health insurance, free university courses, a number of
"employee assistance programs," "a pre-tax benefits
program," etc, etc, etc.
There are three points to be made about these
And then comes the kicker. The contract provisions
were all negotiated when we faculty were State
Employees, which means that in some places (health
insurance comes to mind) we had to rely on the State to
handle many details that that the State may no longer
handle now that we are Public Employees. For example,
for political reasons, the State is keeping us in the
State's medical program and retirement system, but that
could change once the political climate changes. Some
parts of the contract may have to be renegotiated.
- First, tooting the union's horn, benefits were
not given to employees by grateful and generous
employers. They were won by decades of determined
union activity. And they are expensive: many
employers would get out of them if they could.
(Indeed, a few of them do, legally or otherwise.)
Although many employers offer them because the
market demands them, continued union pressure
maintains the bar on what benefits should be.
- Protecting benefits means protecting the contract.
Without the contract, we are relying on the
continuing goodwill of the Administration. Once
again, courts are very respectful of contracts,
and a benefit written into a contract is a lot
safer than one granted by an employer who could
withdraw it tomorrow. But this leads to:
- Benefits are complicated things. There are a
lot of details to get right, and some of these
details belong in the contract --- while others
do not. There are two complications:
- There are many benefits, from the right of
retirees to a departmental mailbox (Article
24, Section 4, Subsection (b), item (8)), to
sabbaticals (Article 22, Section 3). Someone
knowledgeable about one benefit may not be
knowledgeable about another.
- Unlike other issues, in which there are only
two parties, many benefits are actually
provided by third parties, like the State of
Florida (if you are in the Florida Retirement
Service plan) or an investment company (if
you are in one of the other plans) or even an
insurance company. There are a lot of details
to get right, and some of these details belong
in the contract --- while others do not.
Currently, most of the benefits are shoe-horned
into Article 24 of the 2001-2003 contract, which the
USF Administration is currently unlawfully ignoring: