Bargaining Update 5-22-17

The BOT and UFF bargaining teams have been meeting regularly since late March and have made progress on several articles.

Discussions of Salary have been ongoing for the last two bargaining sessions. Because University employees are excluded for the first time in memory from raises targeted to other state employees, negotiations are particularly important this year. Also new this year is the UFF’s proposal to link the total percentage increase in faculty salaries to the total percentage increase in administrators’ salaries. The UFF is surprised by how meager the BOT’s initial proposals are in light of the budget increases the Legislature allocated. In general, the teams are far apart, although there have been small moves toward convergence.

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Talk to your Legislators!

As you may know, the Legislature officially convenes the 2017 Session on Tuesday, March 7th. Higher Education issues have been front and center during the committee process in recent weeks. There are a number of bills that directly affect our campus.

On Wednesday, February 8, the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee voted 5-1 to support CS/SB 2 which has been titled the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2017.” This is an omnibus bill addressing issues ranging from performance metrics to graduation rates to preeminence. UFF has serious concerns about several issues embedded in this legislation.

SB2 redefines metrics to emphasize a 4-year graduation rate, including penalizing universities for students who do not adhere to this metric. It also imposes a block tuition policy through which students would pay a fixed rate for however many credits they take in a given semester, forcing students to pay for 15 credits when their economic or family circumstances might dictate otherwise. We feel that these changes in emphasis could significantly impact students who of necessity cannot graduate in four years, affecting access to higher education for lower-income, minority, and non-traditional students. No analyzes have been made to determine the potential effect of this legislation. This bill has bipartisan support, but we believe that its breadth and complexity is eliminating discussion about certain specific issues it affects.

Another metric measures a University’s success by the starting salary of its graduates. This is designed to emphasize STEM and other fields where starting salaries are above the norm. It punishes universities for graduating students in areas like education, the arts, and humanities. Never mind that it is the Legislature itself that has kept Florida public teacher salaries below national averages. We understand that public education is funded by taxpayers. But a university education is not simply a form of advanced job training whose value can be measured by financial return.

On Monday, February 6, the Senate Education Committee passed SB 374, called the “College Competitiveness Act” by Senate leaders. This bill deemphasizes four-year programs at current state colleges. The bill would remove state colleges from the oversight of the State Board of Education and put them under a new State Board of Community Colleges. The bill will make 4-year baccalaureate degree programs a “secondary” mission of the colleges. Let’s just say that the colleges are very unhappy about this bill. Fortunately, the bill does not yet have a House companion bill.

“Gun rights” activist Senator Greg Steube introduced a bill in January that would have made open carry the law of the state everywhere, including campuses, the legislative chambers, “sterile” areas of airports, and other currently protected areas. This measure proved too draconian to pass the required committees Senator Steube has now broken this bill up into a myriad of bills, each one allowing carry in a currently prohibited area as well as open carry statewide. SB 622 would allow carry on campus. It has not yet been assigned to committee, but UFF will continue to join with Administration and campus law enforcement to oppose this ill-conceived and dangerous piece of legislation.

Last year, UFF supported a bill allowing fee waivers for graduate assistants. Quite simply, we don’t believe that GAs should have to pay up to 30% of their stipends for the right to work. This bill made it partway through the committee process with bipartisan support. This year, it is being folded into a general appropriations bill in partial form. We will be following and supporting this legislation, but would like to address specific fees for waiver.

There will be an increase in committee activity as we get closer to Session. A bill affecting our health insurance has already been introduced. We don’t yet know what the immediate future holds. Things move faster once the Session starts, as the notice for committee hearings is reduced from a week to 48 hours. We will keep faculty advised as to what is happening and when. All of us can advocate for our interests, whether by making phone calls, emailing, or appearing to testify or signing cards during committee sessions. Students and faculty are the end users, and those most affected by these bills. And not everything is contentious. Our voices can educate and convince our legislators if we make them heard. Please take the time to do it!

Election response

First, I want to thank President Thrasher for his recent memo encouraging tolerance and mutual respect in the wake of the election.

I don’t know what the response of your students has been. It certainly varies with politics and discipline. But as someone who teaches small classes and one-on-one lessons, it’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Many students are having legitimate issues concentrating. Many feel adrift, looking for perhaps what they didn’t even acknowledge that they needed – the bedrock of patriotism, belief in country, and faith in democracy. It’s not enough to tell them to suck it up and accept the result. This was not a normal election, but a process that changed the nature of our political discourse and freed some of the darkest demons in the American soul. Student responses are real and should be respected.

What do we as educators, do to settle our own minds and continue to mentor and encourage our students to move ahead with confidence? Our own politics will determine whether we support or oppose the new administration, and no one is bound to do either. But we are challenged to acknowledge, even if we don’t accept all points of view and then do what we can to change them.

I have a student who is writing a one-act opera for an undergrad Honors in the Major project. It’s based on Kafka’s “DER PROZESS” – THE TRIAL – dealing with the themes of totalitarianism, mind control, and decay. He finds that all of a sudden – his words – the work has become frighteningly relevant. How do the rest of us answer? Here is a paraphrased version of the closing of Leonard Bernstein’s famous speech after the death of JFK 53 years ago today. That was the day when, as a fourth grader, I first learned about violence.

“The nature of our situation is immensely aggravated by the element of violence involved in it, without restricting those elements to a single ideology. And where does this violence spring from? From ignorance and hatred — the exact antonyms of Learning and Reason. Learning and Reason: two simple words. Every person can pick them up where they have fallen and make them part of themselves – the seeds of rational intelligence without which our world can no longer survive. This must be the mission of every person of goodwill: to insist, unflaggingly, at risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence and intolerance.

Anger, disappointment, and fear should not inflame us to seek retribution; rather they will inflame our efforts to do what we do. Organize. Advocate. Our work may never again be quite the same. This will be our reply: to make art – to teach – to study – to write – to research – more intensely and with more focus than ever before. And with each effort we will honor the true spirit of humanity and reaffirm all of our beliefs in the Triumph of the Mind.”

EARLY VOTING BEGINS TODAY, OCTOBER 24

As you are well aware, we are in the last days of one of the most consequential election cycles in our history.  We have a choice to make in two weeks, and the options before us could not be more different.   Victory in the State of Florida is critical to both parties, and we have a responsibility to make our voices heard.  The results will affect our lives, our country, and our children.  We are not only choosing a President, but a Senator, Representatives, a Stage Legislature, and local officials.  We are also voting on the future of solar energy and other ballot initiatives.

Here are endorsements from our colleagues at the Florida Education Association and the AFL-CIO:

FEA Recommendations:   http://feaweb.org/_data/files/2016_Elections/FEA-candidate-list-state.pdf

Florida AFL-CIO:  http://www.flaflcio.org/

National AFL-CIO:         http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation

How you vote is of course a very private decision.  However, our colleagues have looked at the candidates and examined the issues closely.   We take these recommendations seriously because we believe they are in the interest of higher education, organized labor, and working families across our state.

Early voting begins TODAY, October 24 and runs through November 6.  Absentee ballots can still be ordered.  And, of course, Election Day is November 8.

For those who might be interested, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the process, whether phone banking, driving voters to the polls, leafleting, or other activity.

Please contact me if you’d like more information.

Really, this will be over soon.  It’s not been a very positive process.  But VOTE!  Do everything you can to encourage family and friends to do the same.   Florida is Ground Zero for this election.   Stand with our colleagues, both in and out of the Union.  Do what’s best for our University, our community, our state, and our country.  Every vote counts!

Matthew Lata

President, UFF-FSU Chapter

matthewlata@gmail.com