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Thursday, May 26, 2022

UF’s teachers union is in jeopardy of being decertified and having its collective bargaining rights revoked.

The Florida House of Representatives and the Senate are reviewing bills to lessen the collective bargaining rights of unions. 

The Senate also passed a bill to eliminate teacher tenure for those hired after July 1. In addition, the bill would base teacher pay largely upon the performance of students.

Susan Hegeman, the United Faculty of Florida’s UF chapter membership chairwoman, called the new proposals a “dramatic assault on unions.”

“A lot of conservative lawmakers see unions as the last remaining threat to their power,” Hegeman said.

She is concerned that if the union is decertified and its collective bargaining rights terminated,  conditions governing employment at UF will be left strictly up to the university.

“As to whether they will be willing to take into consideration faculty needs,” Hegeman said, “I do not think that they will.”

In order to maintain protection from the new legislation, Hegeman said that UFF-UF must increase its current membership by about 30 percent.

According to Hegeman, new legislation calls for decertification of those unions with less than 50 percent faculty membership.

In order to increase membership, UFF-UF members have created a Facebook page, started talking with non-union faculty and begun handing out fliers. 

In speaking with non-union faculty members, Hegeman said rejections to participating in the union usually stem from a lack of understanding of how the union works, a general disdain for unions or a desire to not pay membership fees.

Hegeman said many are under the mistaken impression that their collective bargaining rights will remain in place even if the union is decertified. A Feb. 23 Gallup Poll indicated that 61 percent of Americans wouldn’t support legislation similar to that proposed in Wisconsin, where legislators have proposed cutting union rights and making state employees pay more into their retirement benefits.

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In a March 1 email sent to UF faculty members, Hegeman said if the UFF is decertified, then the collective bargaining agreement would be “null and void.” She explained that the collective bargaining agreement is responsible for tenure, promotion policies, paid parental leave and provides protection from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissal.

Elizabeth Bolton, a UF professor and member of the UF Faculty Senate Steering Committee, disagrees with the assertion that the university’s administration will not take into consideration the members of its faculty.

“We still have rights and freedom of speech,” Bolton said.

Bolton, who has been teaching at UF for 25 years, said it’s her opinion UF will do all it can to retain good faculty members and to keep them happy. She said the faculty at the university are valuable human resources.

“The great majority of upper-division administration realizes that you cannot expect to have a four-star, flagship institution unless you have good human resources,” Bolton said.

As a professor teaching under the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Bolton is not eligible to participate in UFF. However, Bolton said that if given the choice she would still choose not to participate in the union.

Bolton said the initial intent of unions was to protect workers’ rights, but she believes now unions only serve the interests of those protected by them.

“I believe unions have veered far from their goal,” Bolton said. “The practice has been corrupted.”

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