USF FACULTY AND PROFESSIONALS HAVE RIGHTS
Unions are creatures of laws, for unions bargain and enforce contracts - and contracts are all about laws. So unions work to get laws protecting employee rights into the books, and then they hire lawyers to enforce those rights. Three highlights ...
- Anonymous complaints. One basic human right is the right to face one's accuser. Guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment in criminal trials, a court has just ruled that faculty have that right when facing student complaints. For more, see below.
- Union participation. USF UFF employees have the right to join the union and participate in union activities without being harassed or intimidated by supervisors - including chairs. For more, see below.
- Union non-participation. USF UFF employees have the right not to join the union. But if a non-member gets in trouble, the union will not assist them. For more, see below.
May the university administration act on a student complaint against you when the administration refuses to divulge the identity of the complainant? Until a recent court case, many university administrators guessed that the answer was "yes" because of FERPA.
The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 brought an end to practices like professors posting everyone's grades on their office door. (Notice that according to the U.S. Department of Education's interpretation, FERPA still permitted the public release of directory information provided the student and parents have sufficient notice to object.) But one issue is whether FERPA would protect the identity of a student who complains about a teacher.
Last summer, the Circuit Court for Alachua County ruled against the dismissal of an adjunct's suit that Santa Fe College had violated Florida public records laws by not revealing the identity of a student who had sent an email criticizing the adjunct. As reported in Inside Higher Ed, the court ruled that an email about the adjunct was about the adjunct, and thus not an educational record about the student, and thus was not protected by FERPA.
The adjunct, Darnell Rhea, had been let go after the complaint. Rhea had been shown the letter, with the complainant's name redacted, but claimed he could not adequately respond unless he knew who the complainant was. The college administration denied that the complaint was the reason for not reappointing Rhea.
This is not over. The administrations of twenty-six Florida institutions of higher education in Florida, including USF's, have filed an amicus brief asking the court to reconsider. The 26 wrote that they have followed the U.S. Department of Education's interpretation of FERPA and thus "... have treated records that personally identify students as 'directly related' to the student and protected from disclosure." They warn that the result of the current decision will be confusion and litigation.
We will be watching this case with great interest. Meanwhile, it would be unwise – if not inappropriate – for a supervisor to discipline a subordinate based on a complaint when the complainant is unnamed.
The popular view of unions has evolved, as this 1956 Labor Day poster attests, and so has the view of unions within academia. The American Association of University Professors was modeled, in part, after the increasingly influential trade unions of a hundred years ago. Even (and especially) the notion of tenure was picked up from the unions and adapted during the 1930s as a mechanism for protecting ... teachers. With faculty, staff, and students all organizing unions – and middle management wondering "... what if ...?" – Academia's attitudes towards unions are also changing.
That includes union membership and activism.
Legal attitudes towards union membership and activism evolved during the first century and half of the U.S.A., but the major change was the National Labor Relations Act, which protected private employee rights "... to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection ..." Furthermore, it was an "Unfair Labor Practice" (actionable before the National Labor Relations Board) "... to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights ..."
That was for (most) private employees, but various public employees gradually acquired comparable rights. According to Florida Statute 447.301, "Public employees shall have the right to form, join, and participate in, or to refrain from forming, joining, or participating in, any employee organization of their own choosing."
Indeed, "Public employees shall have the right to engage in concerted activities not prohibited by law, for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." Furthermore, according to Florida Statute 447.501, "Public employers or their agents or representatives are prohibited from: (a) Interfering with, restraining, or coercing public employees in the exercise of any rights guaranteed them under this part. (b) Encouraging or discouraging membership in any employee organization by discrimination in regard to hiring, tenure, or other conditions of employment..." A violation of this statute constitutes an Unfair Labor Action, actionable before the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.
So while faculty and professionals can express their personal opinions (under the First Amendment), they certainly cannot retaliate against subordinates or colleagues (in assignments, promotions, etc.) for union membership or non-membership, or even union activism, apathy, or antipathy. And yes, UFF keeps an eye on this sort of thing.
Florida is a "right-to-work" state, which means that UFF and the USF Administration cannot bargain a contract requiring all UFF USF employees to join the union, or requiring employees to contribute in any way to UFF. UFF USF employees are free not to join.
Employee rights are not free, which means that the staff and legal support UFF provides has to be paid for by someone. That someone is the UFF membership.
The union is required to bargain the contract on behalf of all UFF USF employees, whether they are members or not, so the contract is a benefit provided for free to all UFF USF employees, paid for by those employees who choose to join. But the union has become rather hard-nosed about grievances: UFF will represent only those employees who were dues-paying UFF members at the time of the contractual violation.
UFF is currently pursuing four grievances, filed by UFF members. UFF handles grievances for UFF members all the time. However, UFF has received several calls from UFF USF employees saying that they intended to join, but never got around to it, but now something has happened, and would it be possible ...?
But like the Little Red Hen, the Florida Education Association is adamant. Union dues pay for the staff and lawyers, and the staff and lawyers will be provided for UFF members. And it will be like insurance: one cannot get in trouble and then join UFF; one must be a UFF member already.
There are many benefits of membership, but the most prominent are the knowledge that you are supporting the organization that defends your employment interests, and the protection of union representation should anything go wrong. If these benefits are important to you, download, fill in, and mail the membership form today.