Forming a Union: Questions and Answers for USF Faculty

Why are faculty forming unions across the country? 

Because faculty want to improve working conditions and make sure teaching and scholarship are a priority at their universities and in their lives. With a union, faculty have a stronger, more unified voice for their profession. While many non-tenure-track faculty across the country love teaching at their university, issues around job security, wage stagnation, and healthcare can be difficult to address with your administration directly. Coming together to create more equitable and predictable employment conditions is the ultimate goal of a faculty union, and this new stability inevitably enhances the quality of students’ educational experiences. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

How does a union work?

Having a union empowers people to make positive changes where they work. Having a union does not guarantee any particular improvement or benefit, but a union is the tool that working people, like college and university faculty, use to make improvements where they work. Through the power of collective bargaining, instructors across the country have won a voice at the table and have won the right to negotiate with their college and university administrations.

What have others achieved by forming a union?

Across the country, faculty have negotiated contracts that have won: pay increases, the establishment or expansion of professional development funds, “just cause” clauses protecting members from arbitrary discipline or discharge, and a defined rate of compensation in the event of course cancellation, among other improvements. What is achieved in bargaining will reflect the priorities and issues specific to faculty at an individual school.  Most importantly, forming a union will allows faculty to have a voice in determining their working conditions.

So say we form a union. Who will be in charge?

This will be our union. Members will elect officers, and approval of contracts will be decided by a majority vote, but all members can help shape a union through bargaining surveys, serving on committees, and electing officers. All of the proposals for a contract come from faculty. And during the process of achieving a contract with the school, faculty decide when the proposed contract is good enough to be ratified by a majority vote.

 How will the administration respond?

Most employers would very much like to continue making all of the decisions without giving those who work for them a real voice. It’s typical for a university administration to launch a campaign that tries to convince faculty to change their minds about forming a union. Employers’ main argument against a union usually comes down to this: “You will be better off if you let us stay in charge of making all of the decisions.” However, most folks realize that standing together to build a union is the best choice for everyone.

How much will dues be?

Forming a union allows our members to pool their resources and make a bigger difference on campus. No one pays dues until faculty have: 1) formed a union; 2) negotiated the first contract, and 3) voted as a group to approve the contract. In other words, faculty members will not pay any money into the union before they know exactly what gains they’ve achieved through collective bargaining.

What is Faculty Forward? SEIU?

Faculty Forward is a movement of faculty that has organized more than 15,000 faculty at more than 50 different schools since launching in 2013. It is a project of the Service Employees International Union.

SEIU represents 130,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States—40,000 are college and university faculty. Overall, SEIU is home to roughly 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

So we’ve decided to form a union. How long does this take?

The voting takes place after authorization cards are filed with the Florida Public Employee Relations Committee (PERC) for an election. Once the ballots are counted, if there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, faculty will then have a seat at the table with to improve pay, benefits and working conditions by negotiating a union contract.

How can I join the movement?

The first step to build the union is to sign a union authorization form. When there is enough support, faculty will file these cards with PERC. Then, there we be an election to form our union. With a victory, faculty will then have a union and can begin bargaining for improvements go.