JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the ballots were counted April 4, professors, counselors and librarians at Florida Community College at Jacksonville (FCCJ) won recognition with the American Federation of Teachers Local 2397. This victory was the culmination of three decades of perseverance by a group of dedicated unionists at the college.

The majority of faculty came to the conclusion that the best defense against the abuses and greed of the FCCJ administration was an enforceable contract that all faculty could vote on.

The current president of FCCJ, Steven Wallace, had secured huge (up to 30 percent) pay increases for himself and top administrators, and then decreed a two-year freeze in faculty salaries.

This, along with apparent indifference to faculty concerns, assorted abuses and the inability of the Faculty Senate to ameliorate the situation, brought about a change in consciousness in many previously anti-union professors.

Many on the Faculty Senate worked hard to bring about needed changes, and a majority voted to have a contract drawn up by that body submitted to a vote of all faculty.

But a faculty senate, despite the best intentions, is not a union. In the end, a majority of professors drew the conclusion that a union was necessary to represent their interests.

Shortly after voting in the union, also known as Florida Community College Faculty Federation (FCCFF), pro-union professors also won leadership of the Faculty Senate.

FCCJ faculty had tried twice, unsuccessfully, to unionize in the 1970s. The first attempt was lost by a wide margin; however, the union lost the second vote by only 11 votes. The third attempt was better organized, drew in more active involvement and faced a much more unpopular administration.

The leader of the victorious campaign, FCCFF President Howard Denson, released a statement calling for unity and immediate steps toward a negotiated contract.

“With a 201-132 outcome, the third election attempt … turned out to be the charm thanks to the hard work and dedication of many. That and a positive platform resulted in victory. We invite everyone now, both faculty and administration, to unite behind the goal of ‘collegiality by contract,’” said Denson.

“For nearly 30 years, the FCCFF has operated as an observer and conscience of the faculty and college, without the power to implement policy,” Denson explained.

“Our role now will be to move to the negotiating table as active participants and equal partners with the administration. Our goal will be to improve conditions of instructors, counselors, and librarians and to improve students’ educational experience at FCCJ.”

Union advocates based their campaign on a five-point program:

• A two-term contract with a normal teaching load.

• A pay increase in line with what the other colleges receive.

• Improved working conditions (class sizes, lecture-lab-studio ratios).

• Decent grievance procedure.

• Financial security (protection of programs and individual positions, such as counselors, librarians and occupational programs under fire.)

The author can be reached at profpelle@hotmail.com