Faculty union surprised by UF's announcement of contract impasse
Published: Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 29, 2013 at 5:41 p.m.
The University of Florida has declared an impasse with its faculty union after 15 months of contract negotiations — a month after administrators told the board of trustees they were close to an agreement.
“We’re puzzled,” said John Biro, president of the United Faculty of Florida UF chapter. “It looked like we were very close except on a couple of things, so it came as a surprise.”
Biro said he was prohibited by law to divulge details of the negotiations in the news media. But he said he could say that both sides had made progress on several articles in the contract but still had some details to hammer out on salaries, sabbaticals, research and faculty support before they could sign off on the contract.
“We made it clear we’ll go along with (President) Machen’s proposal with a few tweaks here and there,” Biro said. “We have some relatively minor aspects to wrap up.”
The collective bargaining contract represents about 1,700 union members in such colleges as education, engineering and liberal arts and sciences with a combined payroll of $139 million. Those faculty account for 35 percent of the total faculty at UF.
Faculty were notified Monday about the impasse in an email sent by Paula Fussell, UF vice president for Human Resource Services. “The university’s negotiations with UFF have been ongoing for 15 months, and considerable progress has been made on a number of issues,” Fussell said. “The university’s goal is to ensure that faculty members represented by UFF have a complete contract, including pay raises, in a timely fashion.”
The university declined to comment further regarding the impasse.
The management labor and employment law firm Allen Norton & Blue, which represents UF, sent notice to Public Employee Relations Commission Chairman Mike Hogan on Friday that the university had reached an impasse with the faculty union “on all unresolved articles and issues.” The firm’s lawyers requested that PERC assign a special magistrate to help resolve their differences. The firm did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
The two sides will continue to negotiate while awaiting assignment of a magistrate and a hearing date. Until a new contract is approved, faculty will continue to operate under the terms of the old contract, which expired in February.
UF General Counsel Jamie Keith informed the board of trustees in June that they were close to reaching an agreement.
But negotiations stalled at a regularly scheduled public hearing Wednesday, said John Leavey, chief negotiator for the union. The university put an offer on the table, he said, but the union representatives raised questions about raises and sabbaticals, and the university declared an impasse.
“Putting the offer on the table the same day as the impasse announcement was strange,” Leavey said, especially since the union didn’t reject the offer.
“We just said here are problems with the presentations you made on these articles — get them straightened out, particularly on the sabbaticals.”
The longer the delay in negotiations, the longer before faculty gets its raise, Biro said. The proposed raise works out to approximately 5 percent, he said.
Biro said he hopes the faculty are not in store for a situation similar to what happened during the previous contract negotiations in 2009. After six years without a contract, the union had declared an impasse that September. Both sides reached a tentative agreement the day of the hearing, and continued to negotiate until a final agreement was reached in January 2010.
“I hope we don’t go to the brink as we did last time and settle,” Biro said. “We are very close.”