With weekly United Faculty of Florida (UFF) chapter coordinating meetings, member town halls and multiple crisis organizing campaigns on local campuses, UFF chapters faced challenges like never before over the past year. Chapter leaders showed incredible resilience and creativity in the face of this global pandemic and continue to resist reckless college and university reopening plans.
UFF has mostly good news:
- UFF successfully pushed higher ed institutions across Florida to put stopping the spread of the virus first by continuing to minimize in-person gatherings and to continue digital learning into the spring. Bargaining teams proposed solutions and negotiated agreements that ensured safety protocols and appropriate adjustments to evaluations, leave, and promotion, given the extraordinary circumstances. Collective action, including petitions, packing board meetings and car protests pushed some campuses in the right direction, while a few implemented a reckless rush for “normalcy”, discarding CDC guidelines in spite of massive outcries from the campus community. Pensacola State College and the University of Florida in particular pushed for a full return to in-person classes, with UFF fighting to protect members every step of the way.
- The plan to end the USF College of Education undergraduate program has been blocked by a large and formidable student movement that galvanized the community to defend the program. UFF believes we need to defend public education as a public good, so we are helping this movement stay organized and vigilant, as the fight is not over. The USF community must continue to fight for transparency and shared decision-making with all stakeholders, including faculty, students and UFF-GAU.
- Amazingly, UFF’s newest certified chapter, St. Johns River State College, negotiated two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and a complete first contract, all through virtual bargaining. The team is eager to continue to push for fair salaries as these were not improved much in this first round. However, key protections for due process, academic freedom, and sole decision-making by faculty for grading of student performance were achieved.
- UFF’s Organizing Committee at St. Petersburg College collected authorization/membership cards from a majority of their colleagues in an historic and swift socially distanced organizing drive. Jessica Magnani, professor of English at SPC stated, “Faculty need a collective voice in matters that impact our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions. With the potential for significant legislative cuts to education, the pandemic has only increased the urgency of establishing a legally recognized collective voice. UFF representation means creating a true model of shared governance that not only enables faculty to address issues in higher education, but also allows us to collaborate in ways that ensure SPC’s continued academic excellence.”
- UFF membership is also on the rise statewide as academic professionals are realizing the power of a collective bargaining agreement and an organized voice during times like these. Over 20 “UFF Organizing Fellows” continued to have one-on-ones and group events, as well as action campaigns, yielding more than 300 new members and 55 new chapter activists. UFF activists have risen to the challenge, turning crises into “teachable moments” and organizing.
- Full-time faculty at Saint Leo University have been unionized for over 40 years yet, with a single vote and without any notice, the Board of Trustees unilaterally erased their contractual guarantees in October. To have made this momentous decision with no faculty consultation in the middle of a pandemic makes it clear the administration has failed to meet their own call to “cultivate servant leadership that respects and upholds the dignity of faculty, staff and all members of the university,” or to “advocate for social justice, guided by Catholic social teaching.” As a private, Catholic university, the administration seized the chance to jump on the withdrawing certification after National Labor Relations Board stacked with Trump appointees opened the door. Faculty are acting like a union with or without legal recognition, and they will not give up until their contract is restored. Sign their petition on UFF’s website, https://myuff.org, and share widely.