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On the Road

With Valerie Wilk

In mid-April, I spent a busy weekend with United Faculty of Florida (UFF) leaders at their Council of Presidents and senate meetings. UFF, an affiliate of the the Florida Education Association AFT/NEA, represents faculty and professional staff in the 11 state universities, 10 colleges, and two independent universities in Florida, as well as the graduate assistants in three of the state universities.

At the meetings, union leaders committed themselves to ambitious membership increases on their campuses. In addition, UFF has launched organizing campaigns at two more community colleges and for a graduate assistant unit at Florida State University. The leaders also took time to celebrate a new contract for the graduate assistants' local (GAU) at Florida A&M University that provides health insurance for the first time.

At the moment the overarching concern for UFF is Florida's $43 billion budget deficit, which is squeezing higher education. Some campuses have been hit with layoffs, restructuring of programs, larger class size for intro courses, and increased use of contingent faculty.

“We don’t have a taxation structure in place in Florida to support higher education,” UFF President Tom Auxter noted. “We need to make the case for state- supported higher education.”

Auxter described UFF's leadership in a unique coalition with business interests and the union and administration at Miami-Dade Community College.

The result? The state will allow voters to decide whether to give local governments the authority to levy an emergency sales tax to support community colleges. UFF is also establishing a task force to study the long term taxation and funding policies for higher education.

—Valerie Wilk coordinates NEA higher ed activities

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