By Nancy McCann
Friday the 13th was a lucky day for adjunct faculty members in the USF system who are seeking approval to hold a union election.
In a 29-page order, a state hearing officer recommended that the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) approve “a secret ballot election” for the proposed bargaining unit – which is composed of adjuncts from USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee – “as soon as is practicable.”
USF system adjuncts, who are paid much less than tenure-track professors for jobs that are not guaranteed, are part of a nationwide movement to improve the pay, benefits, working conditions and status of adjunct faculty on college campuses.
The hearing officer’s recommendation is not a final victory for the adjuncts, who launched a union campaign in January under the name Faculty Forward. But it is a crucial milestone amid strong opposition from the USF system’s administration.
In Friday’s order, PERC hearing officer Lyyli Van Whittle disagreed with the university’s argument that “adjuncts are temporary employees” who have no expectation of “continued employment” and therefore should not have union representation.
“The evidence demonstrates that adjuncts who have demonstrated a proficiency in teaching USF students have been sought by USF staff to come back year after year,” wrote Van Whittle. “Some adjuncts have been continuously employed since 2009, while others were continuously employed since 2013 and 2014.”
She rejected the university’s reliance on a case involving mosquito spray truck drivers and temporary manual labors to support its arguments, writing that she found the case significantly different from the conditions of adjuncts’ employment.
Late Friday, Martin Tadlock, USFSP’s interim regional chancellor, provided The Crow’s Nest with the university’s response to the hearing officer’s recommendation, saying he could not comment further.
Although adjuncts “provide a valuable service,” the statement says, the USF system “believes forming a union is not in the best interests of the adjuncts and continues to oppose this effort.”
The university “disagrees with the recommended order and the stated rationale and will evaluate filing exceptions to the order for consideration” by the full PERC, the statement says.
Exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommendation must be received within 15 days from the date it was issued.
The PERC board – a chair and two part-time commissioners – will make the final decision on whether the election can proceed.