Florida union leader speaks to engineering faculty

By MaryCate Most

After spending six years as a member of the University of Florida Faculty Senate, Oscar Crisalle didn’t feel his voice was being heard by the administration.

“The Senate is advisory,” said Crisalle. “The union has the force of the law behind it.”

Crisalle, University of Florida Engineering professor and United Faculty of Florida vice president, visited the Grainger Engineering Library on Monday to discuss unionization with College of Engineering faculty and staff. Crisalle emphasized the legal power that unionization has provided faculty at University of Florida and described this leverage as key to maintaining the quality of higher education.

“We have access (to administrators),” Crisalle said. “You don’t have access. You will be out there in the lobby, waiting until they can talk to you.”

The Campus Faculty Association invited Crisalle to speak to inform Engineering professors about the potential outcomes of unionization. Recently, the CFA has gathered support for unionization by going door-to-door around campus, speaking with faculty and staff about the benefits of unionization. 

The next step toward unionizing would be for the CFA to ask faculty to sign union cards, said CFA Vice President Rick Laugesen. If more than 50 percent of faculty sign the cards, the campus would unionize.

During his presentation, Crisalle cited scenarios in which the union has been helpful to certain faculty at the University of Florida, referencing professors who have published research or books while working at the university.

“At the University of Florida, the university gets 50 percent of the royalties and the rest is distributed among faculty and graduate researchers,” he said. “That (percentage) is all negotiated in an agreement, and I have the right to negotiate that agreement.”

However, not all University of Illinois faculty members believe that faculty unionization is a possibility.

“The University owes me half a million dollars in unclaimed teaching money, and I don’t expect to get any of it because we don’t have a union here, so I think I have been screwed over for 28 years,” said Engineering lecturer Richard Keane. “They’ve been blowing smoke for years about unions here and I don’t think they are going to do anything at all. I think it’s all fluff — I think it’s all smoke and mirrors.”

Professors Nick Burbules, Jeff Brown and Joyce Tolliver issued a statement on Jan. 24 asking faculty to reconsider what unionization would mean for the University before deciding to sign a union card. In a earlier interview, Brown said the shared governance system has served its purpose at the University.

“We have a very strong system of faculty governance on this campus,” Brown said. “Our leadership has been very inclusive of faculty concerns on a wide range of issues — I see virtually no benefit and a lot of potential negatives (to unionization).”

Burbules and Brown said their main concern is that “premier faculty” who oppose unionization may be inclined to leave if faculty unionize.

“Unionizing the faculty would require every faculty member to be represented by the union and pay dues — even if they did not support the union itself,” Burbules said.

Burbules said those who oppose unionization have not had the opportunity to voice that concern.

“There is a real groundswell of concern and opposition that is growing and it has happened very quickly,” he said. “We are doing this not out of our concerns, but because there are hundreds of faculty who don’t have any means of expressing their concern.”

CFA hopes to convince faculty that negotiating through collective bargaining will give them a stronger voice among administration, specifically regarding matters such as staff benefits, hiring procedures, campus policy-making and negotiating grievances. Laugesen clarified one of Crisalle’s points, explaining that the rights to both negotiate with administrators and control course content would still be voiced through the Urbana-Champaign Senate.

“The union contract would guarantee that those rights reside with the faculty through the faculty senate,” Laugesen said.

Crisalle was clear on the message he wanted University faculty to hear.

“Control your destiny,” he said. “Don’t let the administrators make the decisions for you.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected] and  @marycate_most.