AFSCME-USF impasse

In Monday morning’s student newspaper, the USF Oracle, there was an article about the university’s rejection of the neutral special magistrate’s recommendation in the current impasse in bargaining between the university Board of Trustees and the staff union, local 3342 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. The university sent an e-mail out to staff on Friday, and in response AFSMCE has distributed an e-mail from its president, Bill McClelland, available now on AFSCME 3342′s blog.

The special magistrate’s recommendations are non-binding, and the USF Board of Trustees is legally required to eliminate all contact with its bargaining team until a public hearing on impasse, so that it can legally remain neutral … but the BOT’s bargaining committee is likely to impose what management recommends. Florida’s law gives the advantage to management in impasse because in many cases, the governing board that supervises the bargaining team also has the authority to impose a settlement at the end of the impasse procedure. (My personal view is that this is a structural conflict of interest.) When management does not think it needs a waiver from the union on a mandatory term of bargaining, the primary power of the union is to organize against ratification of the impasse resolution, so that bargaining on non-salary issues has to start from square one at the beginning of the next fiscal year. For the gory details of impasse procedures, read beyond the jump.

In many years, the officials of the two sides in bargaining come to a tentative agreement that they bring back to their constituents (the bargaining-unit employees or the governing board) for ratification. In Florida public-employee bargaining, either side can declare impasse if the party believes that further bargaining is not likely to be productive. The state Public Employees Relations Commission then assigns a special magistrate to conduct a hearing on the issues at dispute. Each side presents a formal proposal to resolve impasse on the issues, and the proposals cannot assume that the other side waives its right to bargain. So for example, in all faculty contracts at USF, the United Faculty of Florida has granted management the discretionary authority to give out some raises and bonuses that are not formulaic, because that was part of an overall agreement. But that’s a waiver of the union’s right to bargain salary, and when there was impasse between the University of Central Florida Board in Orlando and the UCF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, the board’s proposal first included discretionary authority, and our statewide union immediately filed an unfair labor practice complaint. The board was able to impose a settlement — more about that below — but it was unable to impose discretionary raise authority because that is a mandatory subject of bargaining, and you cannot force a union to waive its rights through impasse.

Back to the special magistrate hearing. Both sides present proposals, and the special magistrate conducts a hearing where both sides can present evidence and arguments for why they think their proposal is in the best interest of the employees, management, and the public interest. The special magistrate then provides a written discussion of the issues and a written recommendation that can be the proposal of either party in part or whole, or it can be a compromise or any other concrete recommendation that the special magistrate thinks is in the best interest of the public and (to the extent possible) both parties.

The important point about the special magistrate’s recommendation is that it is ONLY a recommendation, not binding on either party. Within a few weeks of receiving the recommendation, either side can object to the recommendations, and a rejection by either party forces a hearing by what’s called the “legislative body” to impose a resolution to impasse. The legislative body is not generally the state legislature. For state employees (not university employees), it’s the legislature, but for school districts, it’s the elected school board, for county employees it’s the elected county commission, and so forth. The legislative body is whoever the state has designed as the body that hears the case and imposes a resolution. Some years ago, the state legislature designated each University Board of Trustees as the legislative body for that university’s campus unions.

That means that in the AFSCME case, the Board of Trustees that supervised management’s bargaining team conducts the hearing and imposes a settlement. Administrative rules require that the Board of Trustees be neutral at the impasse hearing, and I understand that communication between the bargaining team and the Board about the substantive issues is supposed to cease when one or both parties objects to the special magistrate’s recommendation. But because there has been continuous discussions in private between the management bargaining team and the Board before the objection to the special magistrate’s recommendation, in many cases the legislative body imposes whatever the management bargaining team requests.

After an imposed settlement, my understanding is that representatives of both sides then need to meet after imposition to draft contractual language that is then put up for ratification. Unlike in the case of a tentative agreement, the union is free to organize against ratification of an imposed settlement. If the unit votes in favor of ratification, and the board also ratifies the language, the imposed settlement language becomes part of the binding contract that remains in effect until a contract agreement (or another imposed impasse resolution). If the unit does not ratify the language of the imposition, then the imposed settlement is in effect only until the end of the fiscal year. If employees in AFSCME’s unit at USF reject an imposed settlement, the main effect of an imposed resolution is primarily in the bonus, which is a one-time payment, and the other provisions would die on July 1. If employees in AFSCME’s unit at USF ratify an imposed settlement and the BOT also ratifies it, then all the provisions of the imposition would continue past the end of the fiscal year.


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