Alligator Staff Writer

Signed by 48 faculty members in the UF Levin College of Law, a petition filed March 5 calls for the college to decide for itself whether to continue its 30-year tradition of controlling how its faculty members are fired, hired and paid.

Petitioners disagree with the UF administration’s move to group faculty members from the College of Law, College of Medicine and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences with the university’s general bargaining unit, which includes all other colleges, law professor Joe Little said.

“Bargaining units ought to include employees that have the same general working environment and interests,” said Little, who signed the petition. “Circumstances of faculty of law are sufficiently different than the general population.”

With the inclusion of the previously independent colleges, the bargaining unit jumps from about 1,800 to 4,100 faculty members.

Asking to intervene in the Public Employees Relations Commission’s selection proceedings, which determine which colleges are included in the collective bargaining unit, petitioners want the College of Law to be removed from the general unit and be certified as a separate bargaining unit, as it has been since 1976.

“If we are a separate bargaining unit, we will have a voice to decide who it shall be,” Little said. “If we are in the big unit, we will virtually have no choice.”

The petitioners contend faculty members were not given adequate notice or consulted about changing their independent bargaining status.

Little said petitioners think this strategy is an attempt to destroy collective bargaining by pitting the colleges that prefer to remain independent against those colleges that would want to join the United Faculty of Florida - the bargaining agent and faculty union for 11 of Florida’s public universities.

“The strategy is bringing in these colleges that have historically not wanted a bargaining agent, so we will vote ‘no’ as a way of defeating the general population, who would vote ‘yes,’” Little said.

UF law professor and petitioner Danaya Wright said if the College of Law does not want to unionize, faculty members may hurt fellow employees.

“If we vote ‘no,’ we destroy it for our colleagues on campus who do want it,” Wright said. “That is an unfair position to put us in.”

UFF President Tom Auxter said it is against Florida law for employers to decide how their employees should be represented.

“People have dramatically different conditions for work,” Auxter said. “It is not up to me to address those conditions. It is their (employees’) right to choose. It’s not the president’s right.”

Auxter said he called on the Board of Trustees to change the situation instead of placing blame on UF President Bernie Machen.

Depending on the college, the differing faculty conditions might include pay deductions for members who fail to raise the expected grant money, he said. Under a single collective bargaining unit, a penalty directed at 20 researchers could be applied to 4,000 faculty members.

Regardless of the decision made, colleges historically not represented have the right to choose whether they want collective bargaining and whether to be a part of a large or small unit, Auxter said.

Little said College of Law faculty members want to be independent, because the college’s culture, size and interests differ from those of the non-professional colleges.

Approximately 60 members make up the College of Law faculty. They know the dean on a first-name basis and can walk into his office at any time, Little said.

“We have an advantage of being small and cohesive,” Little said. “We feel that is an important advantage and one that the petitioners don’t want to give up.”

The latest Comission may make its decision is in May, Auxter said. If the Commission does not remove the colleges from the general bargaining unit, the decision will be challenged in the district court of appeals, he said.

“I think they should consider more what faculty would like and not try and shove something down the throats of faculty that they would like to see done,” Auxter said.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Joe Glover said creating a single collective bargaining unit is a fresh approach from past years.

“We are one administration with one faculty,” he said. “The faculty in the College of Agriculture are really no different than the faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.”

The university has changed since the College of Law was deemed independent of the general collective bargaining unit in 1976, he said.

“There’s very much an integration of the College of Law into the main campus, to the point where what was true 20 or 30 years ago is no longer true today.”