The United Faculty of Florida is only one union "local" in the Florida Education Association, which represents over a quarter of a million K-20 educators and staff across Florida. With over 140,000 dues-paying members, the FEA is affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers (the AFT) and the National Education Association (the NEA), and is thus part of a network of union organizations spanning the country with over four million members. The FEA is a democracy, and its primary policy-making body is the Delegate Assembly, which meets every October to hear reports and set policy.
The FEA Assembly
The FEA Delegate Assembly is the primary policy-making body of the Florida Education Association. The delegates are elected by FEA members, each delegate representing a union "local" in the FEA (UFF is one of these union locals, so UFF members elect delegates representing higher education). Each October, nearly a thousand delegates converge on Orlando to hear reports and set policy.
The Assembly started with memories of the past and reports on the present. Fifty years ago, during the 1967-68 academic year, 40 % of Florida's schoolteachers resigned en masse (it was not technically a strike, although most writers call it that) to protest Governor Claude Kirk's vetoing a tax and funding package for school buildings and raises. The FEA observed the anniversary of the first statewide teacher's strike by having a panel of participants describe job conditions back then (no special education, no planning time, often no textbooks) and what the strike was like (it divided friends, neighbors, and teachers; some businesses ran advertisements thanking the teachers for walking out while others ran advertisements demanding that they go back to work). In the aftermath, the Florida Constitution acquired a provision for collective bargaining - and a prohibition of strikes by public employees.
Turning to the present, an Institutional Racism Session led by Professor Ibram Kendi of American University explored institutional racism, which the National Education Association (the NEA, one of FEA's two national affiliates) characterizes as "norms, practices and policies" of institutions that have the effect of oppressing racial and ethnic groups. He chaired a panel consisting of NEA President Lily Eskelson Garcia, NEA Vice President Becky Pringle, President Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (the AFT, FEA's other national affiliate), and AFT Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Johnson. Kendi argued that racism is like a cancer, and must be addressed. Weingarten argued that if not resisted, bullying will simply get worse and dangerous. Eskelson argued that affirmative action hiring plans must be developed and implemented.
The major issue was the budget. Union dues are divided between the union locals, FEA itself, and the national affiliates (the AFT and the NEA). Since most of FEA's locals are county-wide teacher's associations, most of the dues goes for staff support of locals (UFF has roving staff support for colleges and universities across the state). The second biggest item in FEA's budget is "legal services / member advocacy": all those lawyers for grievances (and lawsuits) cost money.
And there were 22 motions, beginning with a successful motion to support school districts suing the state because of House Bill 7069, signed into law last summer, which diverts local school tax dollars to charter schools. The Assembly also resolved to lobby the legislature regarding House Bill 989, also signed into law last summer, which allows anyone to object to any textbook used in Florida; the FEA will propose that a hearing officer who hears such an objection have an advanced degree in the subject matter being questioned. Among many other resolutions, the Assembly voted to support Puerto Rico and Virgin Island students displaced to Florida by Hurricane Maria and (ahem!) to fight two of the latest shenanigans in our retirement (one being attempts to jack up our "contributions," the other being freezing the COLAs for retirees).
Last spring, the USF Chapter of UFF offered six travel scholarships to members for professional travel. Rehabilitation Counseling Professor Tina Dillahunt-Aspillaga describes what she did with her scholarship.
Tina Dillahunt-Aspillaga attended the American Congress of Rehabilitation Conference in October. This is the largest conference in the world for interdisciplinary rehabilitation research, and it brings together rehabilitation researchers, providers, clinicians, and administrators from over 65 countries. She participated in a symposium and presented a poster. Both presentations focused on reintegrating veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) back into the community. She also co-chaired the Military and Veterans Networking Group Community Reintegration Task Force meeting and met with the editor of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation to finalize items related to the publication of a Supplement on Community Reintegration, Participation, and Employment for Veterans and Service Members with TBI. Dr. Dillahunt-Aspillaga is co-editor of the Supplement, which will be published in February and contains twelve papers, including studies addressing critical needs in furthering our clinical and rehabilitation research agenda in this area.