Full-Time Union Fights Severance Pay Cut

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While the part-time faculty union’s grievances with the University are on full display across campus property with signs demanding a fair contract, the full-time faculty union has been negotiating their own issues with the University behind closed doors.

Beginning in fall 2018, the University ended its long-standing tradition of providing full-time faculty with a severance package upon retirement — a benefit amounting to a full year’s salary. In response, USF’s full time faculty union decided to file a grievance against the University. The grievance was brought forth by the union’s president, professor Sonja Martin Poole.

The severance pay practice has been in place for over 20 years, so the news had come as an unwelcome surprise to faculty. When the University and the union, known as the USF Faculty Association (USFFA), could not come to an agreement on the situation, an arbitration hearing was set for Feb. 22. Arbitration involves a process in which two parties are able to present their cases to a neutral third party, who has the power to make a final decision on the dispute.

Eileen Goldsmith, a San Francisco-based attorney with Altshuler Berzon LLP, is representing the union through the process. David Philpott, who has worked in labor relations for USF for over 25 years, is representing the University. The third party arbitrator is John Kagel, a Bay Area-based attorney.

A variety of faculty members testified at the hearing, including Poole, USFFA vice president Brian Wiener and two other full-time faculty members: professor Elliot Neaman and professor Stephanie Vandrick, who spoke about the hardships faculty may face as a result of this decision.

Neaman ended his 13-year tenure as union president in spring 2018.

Both sides provided written briefs to the arbitrator, who will then determine the outcome of the situation, Philpott said. Representatives from both parties, including Provost Don Heller, stated that many details cannot be publicly discussed at this time as the arbitrator’s decision has not been made yet.

While the decision to cut the severance package is not a breach of contract, the USFFA has cited the removal of these benefits as a violation of their collective bargaining agreement. In layman’s terms, the severance package was not included in any formal contract and was more of a mutually agreed upon tradition.

Neaman believes that it would be in USF’s favor to reinstate the severance package, saying that benefits make employers more attractive to potential job applicants.

“When they retire, [people calculate] how much money they’re going to have,” Neaman said. “A full year’s salary is a lot.”

According to Poole, full-time faculty members are not the only people who are potentially affected by this decision. “The working conditions of faculty and the educational conditions of students are inextricably linked,” Poole said.

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