Faculty union at FAMU faces certification hurdles

Photo of Lee Hall courtesy: famu.edu

The United Faculty of Florida-FAMU Chapter is grappling with obstacles in its efforts for chapter certification renewal, raising concerns about adherence to labor union guidelines amidst broader pressures on union activities statewide.

As a labor union representing faculty members, UFF-FAMU is obligated to apply for renewal certification annually, subject to specific criteria outlined by regulatory bodies. Recent developments in statewide labor regulations have added complexity to the certification process. 

Last May, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law new regulations requiring public unions to meet a 60% membership threshold, compared to the previous 50%. Failure to meet this new standard results in decertification. Additionally, the legislation prohibits the use of paycheck deductions for most public-sector union dues.

Florida State University’s faculty union narrowly avoided decertification after crossing the new threshold. This underscores the significance of the challenges faced by UFF-FAMU in maintaining its certification.

Qualified faculty members as outlined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)  include professors, librarians and research assistants, among others. Conversely, individuals occupying certain administrative roles and duties may not be considered eligible for union membership. This distinction is pivotal in maintaining the integrity of the certification process and ensuring compliance with labor union standards.

UFF-FAMU has encountered a significant hurdle in its certification efforts. The bargaining unit list of qualified faculty submitted to the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) and the university has been returned with additional faculty members, some of whom do not meet the union’s membership criteria. This discrepancy is troubling as the university’s list serves as the basis for determining the 60 percent membership requirement.

Roscoe Hightower, UFF-FAMU’s chapter president, says he and the union are optimistic about the certification despite the hurdles they’re facing. 

“In a way, we’re challenged but we’re confident about where we are as a labor union,” Hightower said. 

“PERC is going to have to come back and say we made it or we didn’t. But we are going to turn in our application which is what we’re working on right now. We’re working to go over the numbers and go over the list because, right now we’re missing the most important thing which is the [correct] bargaining unit list.”

The inclusion of unqualified faculty members on the university’s list poses a serious challenge to UFF-FAMU’s certification prospects, potentially impacting the union’s ability to meet the mandated threshold. This issue is further compounded by recent state regulations, such as Senate Bill 256, which impose stricter guidelines on labor unions, including membership authorization procedures and dues collection practices.

Samique March, a UFF-FAMU member, says she worries about the possibility of the union not being certified. 

The possibility of UFF-FAMU not being certified is terrifying as that would mean all the years that have been spent honing the details reflected in the Collective Bargaining Agreement would be for nothing,” March said. 

“FAMU Faculty would be at a significant disadvantage as it pertains to their employment conditions if we were to lose the benefits that are reflected in the CBA. For instance, the cap on English composition and mathematics classes of 25 is from the CBA. If UFF-FAMU fails recertification then there are many policies that would be in limbo,” she said.

Amidst these challenges, there are concerns about the lack of repercussions for the university’s oversight in accurately assessing faculty eligibility for union membership. With the stakes high for UFF-FAMU and other labor unions navigating a complex regulatory landscape, the need for diligence and accountability in the certification process is paramount.

As UFF-FAMU continues to address these challenges and advocate for the interests of faculty members, the deadline to apply for the renewal of certification is March 9. Nevertheless, the union’s commitment to upholding labor rights and ensuring fair representation for its members remains steadfast amidst the evolving landscape of labor relations in Florida’s public sector.