A letter from Sherman Dorn, chapter president, to members of the USF chapter of UFF:
Dear friends and colleagues,
After news of layoff notices and threats at several other state universities in Florida, I wanted to write all of the chapter members to explain where USF is right now and why I do not expect faculty layoffs here. There are threats of layoffs (or have been layoff notices or layoffs) for those employees whom UFF represents at UF, UCF, FAU, FIU, FAMU, and FSU, but with one exception, there have been no instructional-faculty layoffs at USF, and I do not expect any wave of layoffs for at least the next year.
Two years ago, with the start of the state’s budget collapse, the chapter’s biweekly e-mail newsletter proclaimed that the sky is not falling, and the sky has NOT fallen. It may be a little closer to the ground, but it hasn’t fallen. We’ve come through the past few few years of crisis with a single layoff of an instructional faculty member; we filed (and resolved) a grievance related to that layoff, and the person was recalled into another position this spring. We settled a contract that gave us a 2.4% raise pool, USF has established a parental leave program, there have been no furloughs, and USF continues to give promotion raises.
WHY NO FACULTY LAYOFFS
There are several reasons why I do not expect faculty layoffs. Most importantly, DOZENS OF YOU contacted legislators to help make sure that next year’s budget is not catastrophic. Together with the efforts of other university faculty and other employees around the state, students, BOT and BOG members, administrators, business organizations, and newspapers, we succeeded in staving off what could have been an absolute disaster at USF. This is a victory in hard times, and you should take pride in it.
But there are other reasons, since the better-than-disastrous budget hasn’t stopped the threat of faculty layoffs at other universities. In the past year, the chapter has made clear that layoffs are not in the administration’s interest. Layoffs and other precipitous moves typically lead to contentious grievances, such as one the UFF won at UF or the grievance that we settled with the administration at USF. To its credit, the USF administration has recognized its interest in avoiding faculty layoffs. In addition, the provost declared last August that USF would be drawing on its reserve funds to protect programs — a move that UFF had called for since last spring, and one that is absolutely appropriate. It is in all of our interest that there be competent financial administrators at USF, and right now, USF appears to be in better shape than the other large public universities in Florida. Faculty Senate President Larry Branch sits on the university’s budget council, and I trust him to represent faculty interests on that council.
These facts do not mean that USF is in great financial shape, or that there won’t be the ordinary disagreements that a union will have with management. We will have to fight for higher-education budgets again next spring. We are waiting on arbitrator decisions in two grievances, including last December’s taking of three days of annual leave from 12-month employees. We still do not have a domestic partnership health insurance stipend, the wave of staff layoffs last summer upset many of us with how the university treated valuable staff members, and others of us have had fewer summer teaching opportunities or larger class sizes. But in comparison with the other large public universities in Florida, and in contrast to universities in many other states, we’re holding our own. We continue to grow in membership, we will hold the administration to its promises on establishing an instructor promotion track, and we will bargain a contract that continues to advance our interests and shared values.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
There are several steps each of us can take now and in the next year to reduce the chances of faculty layoffs ever at USF:
1) Contact your state legislators twice in the next year. If each of us writes a letter this summer explaining the work we do and the students and communities we help, legislators will be more likely to want to protect USF and higher education in the 2010-11 budget. We also should expect to have to contact legislators during the next legislative session in March and April. You can do this in less than 30 minutes in the next year.
2) Talk to colleagues regularly about UFF and either joining or becoming more active members — including contacting state legislators. The more success that we have in mobilizing faculty to contact legislators, the easier it will be to protect higher education in the 2010-11 budget. And my e-mail today may motivate you, but you’re going to do a better job of motivating the colleague whose office is next to yours. You can do this in less than two minutes each week.
3) Help make UFF more effective in the next year. The chapter has been working with two USF graduate assistants this spring to discover what we need to do to be more effective and more active as a union chapter. A vote of a chapter meeting in the spring asked their help in looking at perceptions of the union in two departments, to hold up a mirror to the chapter’s leadership, and I asked for a frank assessment of what we need to do better. If you are in one of those departments and participated in an interview, THANK YOU. I won’t ever know who was interviewed or who said specific comments, but the chapter’s membership today and in the future needed and appreciates your honesty. I expect the draft report of the graduate students in the next few weeks, I will circulate the final report to all of the chapter’s officers and elected senators, and then each of you will receive a copy by the beginning of the fall. I will probably ask EVERY member of the chapter for help in following up on the report, in ways that will take no more than 5 minutes of your time during the summer or early fall. Where appropriate, I will appoint small committees to tackle the recommendations in the report.
Finally, beyond the written parts of our job and taking some time for union activism, it’s important to help our neighbors and coworkers who are losing their jobs. The fact that there are no layoffs does not mean that everyone at USF is keeping their jobs. Every year at USF, there are staff and faculty who are not reappointed, do not earn tenure, or otherwise leave USF without another job to go to. Every year at USF, either the chapter’s grievance officer or chapter president hears from half or more of faculty who were denied tenure to see if grievances are warranted. This year and last year have been no different in that respect, but the economy is the worst it has been in more than 50 years. If you have received a letter of nonreappointment or have been denied tenure, I know that looking for other jobs is harder than at any other time since the Great Depression. The federal stimulus package is supposed to boost and extend unemployment benefits, and it will cover part of COBRA health-care extensions for several months, but that is cold comfort when you’re looking for a job. If you just need a friendly ear, even if it’s not about union stuff, e-mail me at any time and we can talk. If you know someone who is leaving USF without another job, please do not avoid the person down the hall who is leaving in two, six, or twelve months. Say hello, encourage them to keep looking for a job, and remind them to apply for unemployment benefits and ask the unemployment office about COBRA subsidies.
I hope that in a few years, the economy will be strong, and we can talk about a range of accomplishments through these hard times and into the future. But for now, you should be confident that we are not facing a massive wave of layoffs and I do not expect one in the next year.
USF Chapter President
United Faculty of Florida