We have a contract! It's been ratified! Break out the champagne and thank your Chief Negotiator and his Bargaining Team.
The New Contract
It took a while, but we have a contract. The two chief negotiators tentatively agreed to a new contract, but in order for it to come into force, it had to be ratified by the 1,563 faculty and professionals in the UFF USF Bargaining Unit, and by the USF Board of Trustees. UFF conducted a ratification election, and of the 446 ballots received, 443 were in favor of ratification, 2 were against, and 1 was disqualified. Meanwhile, the Board voted unanimously in favor of ratification.
Thanks to all employees who took the time to go through the ratification materials and cast a vote.
The USF Administration has promised to process the merit raises expeditiously, so they should appear in your paychecks shortly. Meanwhile, a few important points about the contract:
One last thing. There seem to be some urban legends about what the union permits or requires. Two points about these urban legends. First of all, the only things that the union can require of the Administration is what state and federal law requires and what both sides agree to in bargaining. And secondly, what both sides have agreed to is the contract. So if someone claims that the union won't let faculty wear shorts on Fridays, check the contract: if there is nothing about shorts or Fridays in the contract, it's a myth.
- Know the contract! The contract has priority over university rules and regulations, over the Faculty Handbook, and over instructions from supervisors. It is a legally binding document, enforceable in court. And we have posted it online.
- There will be two rounds of mini-bargaining during the life of the contract. The raises of 2015 and 2016 will be bargained during two rounds of "reopener" bargaining. What the raises should be - and how they should be distributed - are critical issues for faculty morale and retention. The Bargaining Team will be seeking guidance on these issues.
- The contract protects your rights - if you use it. The contract is just a piece of paper. If your supervisor violates your contractual rights, you have to act to make things right. If you are a UFF member at the time of the violation, UFF will represent you: just contact the Grievance Committee. And do it fast: the contract permits thirty days from the time of the violation to file a grievance. (If you are not a UFF member, UFF cannot represent you in a grievance: union dues pay the staff and legal expenses for grievances.)
One of the most visible indicators of a political establishment's concern for education is the state of the academy's physical plant. In Florida, that physical plant is deteriorating - something for friends of education to think about this coming election season.
Academic construction sometimes seems to live in an alternate economy. In the past, while academics were being cut back, funds poured into building and remodeling. We were told that the money came from different pots, but that was only part of the story.
Although academic spending is an effective way to tide underemployed youngsters through recessions while reinvigorating the economy, it is easier to get politicians to fund building projects - which also tide underemployed youngsters and invigorate the economy. In the past, when times were hard, construction barreled ahead because that was something positive the politicians could do.
But Florida is in a new abnormal.
In Florida, academic construction, remodeling, and maintenance is supported by the Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO), which takes various utility taxes and uses them to pay for school, college, and university buildings. This does not happen automatically: PECO floats bonds (Moody's rates PECO as Aa1 - "high quality and very low credit risk" according to Wikipedia) and distributes money as the legislature directs. PECO has two problems.
The first problem is an old one: tax receipts are declining. As we consumers grow more efficient, we spend less on utilities and thus less in taxes, so PECO gets less money. In 2011, the Florida Current claimed that between increasing energy efficiency and the post-2008 recession, Capital outlay estimates take a dive; outlook grim for higher education. Yes, Florida colleges and universities have gotten a lot of PECO money, and as that revenue stream dried up, there was less money for our buildings.
The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimates that total K-20 PECO revenue fell from nearly two billion dollars annually during 2006 - 2008 down to $ 74 million during 2012 - 2013 (the ECDR estimated that PECO revenue during the coming year would be about half a billion). The ECDR does not foresee a major ballpark change during the rest of this decade.
This has not encouraged the legislature to either seek new revenue or to conserve the revenue PECO currently receives. In fact, the legislature is treating PECO as a pork barrel for political friends.
This brings us to PECO's second problem. In 2011 and 2012, charter schools received all PECO funding allocated to K-12 education, and in 2013, charter schools received over 80 % of PECO funding allocated to K-12 education. This last session, the Legislature allocated 60 % of all K-12 PECO funding to charter schools even though only 9 % of Florida students are in charter schools.
These diversions have consequences, besides the spectacle of public money paying for private buildings. In Alachua County, parents, teachers, and other volunteers are painting schools. In Marion County, school administrators don't have funding for air conditioners and other infrastructure required for computer labs.
We should not pretend that this could not happen to higher education. After all, not only are there private institutions, there are for-profit institutions that make campaign contributions. And at the moment, higher education does receive a substantial portion of the PECO pot, a portion that could attract jealous attention.