Explore What It Would Mean to Have Third-Party Representation at Valencia College
Electing a third-party organization to represent your interests with the College is a big decision that we know you won’t take lightly when the time comes. We encourage you to learn as much as you can so that you can make a well-informed decision.
In this section, we share information about how unions work, what they can and can’t do on a college campus, what the election process will look like, and much more.
We have also included some great resources to help you further explore how the outcome of an election would change our collective experience at Valencia College.
As always, we welcome the opportunity to hear from you, so please reach out. Working together, we can continue to make Valencia College the very best it can be.
Union 101: Questions & Answers about Third-Party Representation
A Brief Introduction
As you explore the many facets of third-party representation, we think it’s important to restate our position: We don’t think union representation is a good option for our part-time faculty and instructors and we believe that, once you’ve had the chance to explore the facts and consider your options, you won’t either.
The interests of a third-party organization, like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are not aligned with our mission, values, and our overarching commitment to our students’ success. In fact, should the effort to unionize succeed, it would fundamentally change our working relationship with you:
- We would no longer have the ability to discuss some of the most important components of your job directly with you;
- We would no longer have the flexibility to implement, without going back to the bargaining table, new ways to improve your wages, benefits, and other conditions of your employment; and
- We would no longer be able to engage in the same level of direct conversation about your needs, concerns, and ideas.
- The bottom line: we have a collaborative, respectful and immensely valuable relationship with our part-time colleagues … and we are determined to continue to grow and succeed with you, together.
The interests of a third-party organization…are not aligned with our mission, values, and our overarching commitment to our students' success.
- Entities Involved in the Process
- Terms You'll Need to Know
- How the Election Effort May Affect You Personally
- The Path to the Election
- What Happens After the Election
- What a Third-Party Union Can and Can't Do
- Setting the Record Straight
I. ENTITIES INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS
Q1. What is SEIU?
SEIU stands for Service Employees International Union, a $300 million, union-organizing business based in Washington, D.C. With more than two million members, SEIU has historically focused on organizing employees in three industry sectors — health care, government agencies and those in property services, like janitors and security officers. In 2012, SEIU launched a nationwide program called “Faculty Forward” to expand its membership base by attempting to recruit higher-education faculty.
We strongly encourage you to research court cases and news articles involving SEIU to add to your knowledge of the organization, including their approach and tactics.
Q2. What is the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC)?
The Florida Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) is a state entity with jurisdiction over public-sector labor relations and collective bargaining. Should the need arise, PERC assists parties — in this case, Valencia College and SEIU — in resolving labor issues.
PERC will be responsible for managing the election, including finalizing the timing, mailing ballots to your homes, and collecting and tallying votes.
If you’d like to learn more about the process, check out PERC’s handbook.
II. TERMS YOU’LL NEED TO KNOW
Q3. What is a “bargaining unit"?
A bargaining unit is essentially the group of employees who would be represented by the union. The intention is to include employees in the “unit” who share common interests and have similar compensation and working conditions.
The bargaining unit includes:
- Part-time faculty teaching classes for academic credit, e.g. Freshman Composition, Biology, Calculus, etc.
- Part-time instructors teaching classes for continuing education credit, e.g. Intensive English program, welding and mechatronics, defensive tactics at the School of Public Safety, etc.
Q4. Is everybody included in the bargaining unit?
No. The bargaining unit excludes all other College employees, including:
- Supervisors with the authority to hire, promote, conduct performance evaluations, and terminate the employment of other employees.
- Managers who influence management policy and exercise independent judgment.
- Confidential employees working for managers who set labor policy for the College, such as those in human resources.
- Employees with dual roles at the College, such as full-time employees who also teach part-time.
Q5. Who determined whether I am in the bargaining unit or not?
That decision was made by PERC as of March 30, 2021.
Q6. What is “collective bargaining”?
Collective bargaining is the process by which an employer and a union, which would have to be certified through an election as the bargaining agent, negotiate wages, benefits, hours and other employment terms and conditions for the entire group represented by the union.
A relatively small group of union staff, union lawyers, and representative members of the bargaining unit (part-time faculty and part-time instructors) would be selected to represent the whole. Together, the group and a similar team from administration would set out to discuss, propose, debate, and attempt to reach a collective bargaining agreement that binds both SEIU and the College to the agreed upon terms.
The negotiation process, especially for first contracts, can take many months and in some cases, years. During this time, all wages, benefits, hours, and other working conditions are frozen until an agreement can be reached. For example, should a college-wide increase in wages be approved, those in the bargaining unit may not immediately receive the increase as wage rates would be frozen during the collective bargaining process.
Q7. Are any specific provisions required in a collective bargaining agreement?
The law only requires that each collective bargaining agreement contain a procedure through which the parties may resolve disputes regarding interpretation or application of the contract. As for all other terms and conditions of employment, the law requires only that each side engage in good-faith negotiation; it does not guarantee any particular provision become part of the agreement.
Q8. Do negotiations begin at the current rate of pay, hours, benefits, etc.?
No. Negotiations would begin with a clean slate, and each side would have the ability to make proposals that may alter the status quo. In the end, the bargaining unit may end up with more, less, or the same terms of employment as employees have today.
Q9. Who gets to sit at the bargaining table and decide what issues will be addressed?
The specific composition of the bargaining team would be determined by the union itself; based on experiences at other Florida colleges, those selected tend to be employees who were the most active and vocal during the election.
Each union is its own entity with its own policies, priorities, officers, and internal politics, and each union makes its own decisions about what issues to bring forth during negotiations.
III. HOW THE ELECTION EFFORT MAY AFFECT YOU PERSONALLY
Q10. How did the SEIU get my home address and phone number?
As you know, we are subject to Florida’s Public Records Laws, which make employee contact information subject to disclosure unless you qualify for one of several narrow exemptions. The law does not permit us to deny a request because of the identity of the requestor or how they may use the records. SEIU has made multiple public-records requests over the past several years, including for files containing your contact information.
If you’d like to dig a little deeper, we suggest starting with this post in The Grove.
Q11. Do I have an obligation to speak or meet with a SEIU staff member or a fellow Valencia employee speaking on its behalf?
The choice of whether to talk with someone, including a co-worker, is entirely up to you. But to be clear, whether you’re approached at home, on the phone, or via text or email, you have no obligation to speak to anyone about third-party union representation as the College has no affiliation with SEIU.
Also, be aware that labor-organizing rules prohibit union organizers from approaching you in the workplace and/or interrupting your work. In fact, Florida's Public Employees Relations Act (PERA) specifically gives you the right to refuse to take action in support of an employee organization, including participating in informational get-togethers and Zoom meetups to protests and rallies.
If you choose to engage in conversation, just remember to do so during non-working hours before or after work, or during breaks.
If you need more clarity or want to discuss the rules of engagement, please reach out to your dean or supervisor who can provide additional guidance.
IV. THE PATH TO THE ELECTION
Q12. What is the process by which a union becomes certified to represent employees?
First, the union files a petition with PERC seeking an election of a certain group of employees. In order for an election to occur, the union must show that at least 30% of the proposed group of employees is interested in third-party union representation. The union demonstrates that interest by submitting authorization cards signed by individual employees.
In its first attempt to organize Valencia’s part-time faculty, SEIU submitted nearly 100 ineligible cards — many signed by people who don’t work at the College or who were not in the proposed bargaining unit — and PERC denied the petition. Late last year, PERC informed us that SEIU finally received enough authorization cards to move forward with an election. Keep in mind, however, that authorization cards do not indicate the majority of eligible employees actually want to be represented by a union; they are used only as a gauge for PERC to potentially allow the petition to move to the next step.
Q13. How will a vote take place?
PERC will manage every step in the process. Using contact information provided by the College, PERC will likely conduct a mail-ballot election, where PERC will send each eligible employee a mail packet that includes the ballot, an instruction sheet, an inner envelope (in which the ballot is placed for privacy), and a return envelope with a control number and line for a signature to ensure the employee was an eligible voter. That return envelope will be mailed directly back to PERC. Neither the College nor the union will know how individuals vote.
Q14. How is the outcome of the vote determined?
The vote itself will be simple. A “Yes” vote means you actively agree to accept representation by the third-party labor union in all matters related to wages, hours, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.
A “No” vote means you actively reject representation by the third-party labor union in all matters related to wages, hours, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
The most important take-away is this: the election’s outcome will be determined with just a simple majority of people who return their ballots. It’s counterintuitive, we know, but if only a fraction of you vote — say 200 — it would only take 101 “yes” votes to form the union. That means 101 employees would decide the fate of the entire bargaining unit.
So, choosing not to vote is not the same as voting against representation. Once the votes are cast, the decision to accept representation by a union is very difficult to reverse.
Q15. How is the vote counted?
If the election were to occur by mail, PERC distributes the ballots by mail and you will have a specific deadline for mailing them back to PERC, which will tally the votes and determine the result. From the time the ballots are mailed, employees typically have about three weeks to submit them to PERC.
Again — and we can’t stress this enough — the election’s outcome will be determined with just a simple majority of people who return their ballots. For example, at Miami Dade College, of the 2,790 employees eligible to vote, 1,162 voted and by a narrow margin of 14 ballots, 587 yes votes created a union for all 2,790 employees.
Q16. If I signed an authorization card, must I vote in favor of the union?
No. Nothing about signing an authorization card requires you to take a particular position at the time of a vote. If you originally signed a card, you can vote no after learning more about the process and seeking answers to all your questions.
V. WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE ELECTION
Q17. If SEIU becomes the certified bargaining agent for part-time faculty and part-time instructors, what happens next?
SEIU and the College would begin the collective-bargaining process to reach a master contract, called a collective bargaining agreement, covering all employees in the bargaining unit.
This process can be lengthy, depending on the issues and positions taken, and can last several months to several years during which all existing wages, benefits and conditions of work are frozen until an agreement is reached and approved by Valencia’s District Board of Trustees.
As an example, PERC certified SEIU as the exclusive bargaining agent for Seminole State College’s adjunct faculty on November 1, 2018; a tentative agreement was reached between the parties in February 2021, but as of March 2021 the agreement had not yet been ratified by Seminole State's District Board of Trustees.
Similarly, PERC certified SEIU to represent part-time faculty and part-time instructors at Miami Dade College on April 12, 2019; after nearly 20 months of negotiation, a ratified agreement went into effect in January 2021.
Q18. What happens if SEIU and the Valencia’s District Board of Trustees are unable
to agree on a contract?
If the parties reach an impasse, a mediator may be appointed to help the parties find a resolution. If mediation is unsuccessful, the parties can choose to present their proposals to a special magistrate through a hearing process and allow the magistrate to make a recommendation to Valencia’s District Board of Trustees. The recommendation would be based on factors set forth in Florida Statutes to which the magistrate must adhere. Alternatively, the parties can take the issues directly to the board. In either case, the Board would consider all proposals and ultimately decide what’s in the best interests of all parties.
Q19. If I didn’t vote, or voted no, to the union, am I still part of the collective
Yes. Regardless of how you personally voted, all part-time faculty and part-time instructors would be subject to the collective bargaining agreement should SEIU secure a majority of ballots submitted.
Q20. How much are SEIU dues?
Dues vary considerably depending on the union and the institution. Some unions charge between 1% to 2% of your salary each year. Others charge you a flat amount per pay period. Unions revisit dues and raise them from time to time.
In at least one college in the Florida College System, SEIU members pay approximately 1.56% of their earned wages.
Q21. Will the union represent me if I choose not to pay dues?
Under Florida law, you are not required to pay union dues, but you would still be part of the bargaining unit, so the union will bargain on your behalf and you will be subject to the collective bargaining agreement. While subject to the same bargained agreement, the union has discretion over potential differences in representation for dues paying and non-dues paying members. For example, the union may not represent a non-dues paying employee in a grievance or process the grievance at all. Additionally, unions typically will not allow participation in setting priorities or input into collective bargaining without paying dues.
Q22. How are SEIU dues collected and who receives them?
Should you elect to pay dues, the College will deduct your payments directly from your wages and forward them to SEIU on your behalf. Bargaining agreements typically specify the timing of transmittals.
Generally, some percentage of your dues will go to a union's national headquarters to pay their salaries and administrative costs, like legal fees and lobbying. According to its 2018 federal IRS Form 990, SEIU spent many millions on lawyers and lobbyists.
Q23. As a member of SEIU bargaining unit, can they charge me other costs beyond dues?
Depending on the union, you may have to pay a special assessment from time to time. You may also be subject to fees should you violate union rules, such as a late fee for failing to pay dues on time.
VI. WHAT A THIRD-PARTY UNION CAN AND CAN’T DO
Q24. Can a union like SEIU guarantee I’ll get a raise?
No. Like all our other investments, employee wages are set based on the College’s annual budget, which includes allocations from the state of Florida and student tuition and fees. A union has no control over that budget. This side-by-side document compares Valencia wages and other employment terms with some of our system peers who are represented by SEIU.
Q25. Can a union like SEIU guarantee I’ll continue to receive teaching assignments and/or protect my job from downsizing?
Collective bargaining agreements do not guarantee that individual faculty or instructors will receive future teaching assignments. These decisions are driven by enrollment, and even with a union bargaining agreement, assignments remain under the purview of the College. In fact, in agreements reached between other colleges in the Florida College System and SEIU, there are no provisions for future teaching assignments.
Q26. Can a union like SEIU bargain over supervision?
No. The selection of supervisors, managers and administrators is a managerial matter and is not a subject of bargaining.
Q27. Can a union like SEIU amplify my voice on campus?
Selecting a third-party to represent you with the College would fundamentally change our working dynamic.
As a legal matter, the union would become your "exclusive" representative with respect to wages, benefits, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. You’d no longer have the ability to speak directly with your supervisor, and campus and College leadership, about these things without the inclusion of — or interference by — a third party.
Here’s a real-world example: for several years, Valencia has hosted open town-hall meetings on every campus to provide College news and updates and hear from employees about issues that are important to them. In fact, it was a town hall meeting that led to the College’s decision to allow part-time faculty to receive paid time off — a first-of-its-kind policy in the Florida College System.
Having union representation would preclude our ability to engage with you in such a setting, respond to your questions directly and take your suggestions forward for implementation.
Q28. Would a union agenda, like that of SEIU, always align with my best interest?
No, not necessarily. The union’s business agent and officers would be representing a large, diverse group of individuals — who teach in a wide array of disciplines — as a single, homogenous bargaining unit. It would be nearly impossible to ensure everyone’s needs are met.
Q29. Does the presence of a union preclude the College from managing and supervising its own part-time faculty members and part-time instructors?
Not at all. Just as the Public Employees Relations Act provides employees with rights, it also provides employers with rights. Specifically, public employers such as Valencia College are vested with the rights to manage and govern, including the ability to set standards, and direct and discipline its employees.
Q30. If SEIU is elected, can members of the bargaining unit remove SEIU as its certified bargaining agent?
Yes, but not easily. Unions do not stand for reelection each year. Most unions remain the representative of the employees in the unit forever. However, the law does provide a mechanism for holding another election. In order to have such an election and decertify a union, the employees in the unit must themselves file a decertification petition with PERC, along with a 30% showing of interest, just as in the certification process. PERC would then process the petition and hold another election.
VII. SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Q31. Is Valencia “spending money on lawyers” to fight SEIU?
One of SEIU’s tactics is to draw attention to the legal fees we’re incurring as a result of its efforts to organize our part-time faculty and part-time instructors. Valencia has hired expert outside counsel to ensure we are participating fully and availing ourselves of our rights in this highly regulated process. We have engaged Allen, Norton, and Blue, a firm with expertise in the Public Employees Relations process in Florida, just as SEIU has also engaged expert counsel in the state’s process.
None of the legal fees associated with the effort to unionize our part-time faculty and part-time instructors have been paid from student tuition dollars or state appropriated funds, but rather, from our auxiliary funds generated from broadband leasing, cellphone towers, etc.
We routinely engage outside counsel on matters requiring specific legal expertise, and employee unionization — which is strictly regulated at both the state and federal levels — is one of those areas.
Nonetheless, engaging with a union is an expensive endeavor, and not just in the phase where a vote is considered. If a union is voted to represent a group of employees, the cost in time, salaries, and the continued need for expert legal counsel at the bargaining table is considerable.
Q32. Is Valencia trying to delay the PERC process?
SEIU has alleged that we’ve intentionally delayed the process to gain some type of advantage.
The truth is we’ve followed the state-defined process to the letter, ensuring all decisions affecting a potential election are fair and equitable to all involved.
We gain no advantage in delaying the process and have not done so.
In fact, in December of 2019, SEIU asked to delay a hearing before PERC, which would have helped resolve the question of whether it had satisfied its 30% showing of interest requirement needed to move forward in the process. Because of SEIU’s request, the hearing was canceled and would not be held until November of 2020. We believe this delay was intended to provide SEIU more time to collect authorization cards—cards it did not have in 2019 when the petition was originally filed.