UFF began in 1976, when faculty across the State University System voted for the United Faculty of Florida to be its exclusive collective bargaining agent. Over the next twenty-five years, UFF proceeded to negotiate a series of statewide contracts with the Board of Regents. During that time, UFF also played an active role lobbying the state legislature and promoting the interests of faculty in the public arena.
In 2000, the Florida Legislature mandated a restructuring of higher education in Florida, which led Governor Jeb Bush to dissolve the Board of Regents. By 2003, governance had been devolved to Boards of Trustees at each of the eleven state universities, and some of these boards refused to recognize UFF chapters as the faculty’s bargaining agent. Although a court later ruled that UFF’s status should not have been impacted by devolution, by then UFF had already responded by launching recertification campaigns at each of the State University System’s campuses. In 2003, the FAU faculty reaffirmed its desire to be represented by UFF by an overwhelming vote.
Although the recertification campaign was burdensome for UFF-FAU’s volunteer leadership and members, it had the unintended impact of leading to a new era of activism, as faculty recognized that they needed to be organized and vigilant in order to resist pressures that would impact working conditions and contractual rights at FAU.
In the years that followed, UFF took a leading role in protecting academic freedom, defending tenure, and organizing the increasing numbers of instructors and other non-tenure-track faculty at FAU.
In 2009-2010, UFF-FAU protested vigorously when the FAU Administration violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement in its announced plan to lay off six tenured faculty members in the College of Engineering. With assistance from its statewide affiliate and outside legal counsel, UFF-FAU filed a grievance which culminated when the arbitrator ruled that the layoffs were “arbitrary and capricious” and reinstated laid-off UFF members. This led to the immediate reinstatement of tenured faculty.
Union mobilization at FAU received another spike in 2011, when Governor Scott and his allies in the legislature proposed a series of bills designed to limit the ability of public employees to collectively bargain their contracts. Together with the passage of a bill that severely restricted tenure among K-12 teachers and with the introduction of a bill that would eliminate tenure at community colleges, these legislative initiatives further alerted FAU faculty that they needed UFF.
Membership in UFF-FAU now surpasses 40%, making it one of the largest UFF chapters in the state. Today, UFF-FAU is in a stronger position than ever for meeting the challenges that are sure to arise as the state legislature tries to balance its budget on the backs of state employees and as university administrators attempt to increase faculty teaching loads while moving resources toward non-teaching administrators and staff.
One of the union’s most important strengths lies in the faculty’s desire for community and solidarity across department and college lines. Large universities like FAU are mostly impersonal, bureaucratic, and top-down institutions, with administrators’ priorities increasingly unresponsive to faculty concerns. The union develops a local culture in which faculty follow and take responsibility for developments beyond their own departments; thus the union articulates an independent voice of the faculty, the heart of the university.