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St. Petersburg College faculty vote to unionize

Faculty leaders and school officials say they hope the effort will lead to improvements.
Faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize this week.
Faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize this week. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Oct. 1

Faculty members at St. Peterburg College have voted 193-56 to establish a union, forming the 34th chapter of the United Faculty of Florida.

With 295 members eligible to participate, 84 percent voted by mail and 78 percent voted in favor of forming a union. The vote was certified Thursday by the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

Jessica Magnani, an English professor who led the effort to unionize, said she’s grown invested in the community, the college and her students over the 14 years she has worked at the school. But she’s also seen faculty working conditions erode with the loss of sabbaticals, professional development opportunities, inconsistent raises and other factors that she said directly impact their ability to serve students.

“Unionizing is a way to get some of that faculty voice back,” Magnani said. “There was a sense that it was time to have a legally recognized voice.”

This was the second attempt at forming a faculty union. In 2016, the majority of faculty did not vote in favor of the effort.

Heather Roberson, who has been at the college for close to 20 years, said she voted against it last time. “Union is a bad word in some areas,” she said.

But after researching the benefits of it, she said she, like many others, changed their minds over the past few years, particularly as the threat of pay cuts loomed during budget discussions.

“We want to keep SPC the most stable place for student learning conditions,” Roberson said.

Manoli Gerakios, a member of the Faculty Senate, said the union gives faculty a legally recognized voice and a seat at the table.

“The union is the faculty,” he said. “I think we’re going to be able to help administration make our school better.”

Earlier this year, the already unionized adjuncts at SPC agreed on their first contract with college administrators after eight months of negotiations. But the school’s trustees shot down the contract, citing concerns over a union, catching administrators by surprise too.

Related: RELATED: St. Petersburg College trustees reject contract in blow to adjuncts

Matthew Liao-Troth, vice president for academic affairs, said while there is an “institutional preference” to work directly with faculty, he congratulated the members on a well-led campaign and said he looks forward to working with them.

“It could lead to a transformative process and be very good for the college as a whole,” Liao-Troth said. “It helps provide a formal structure to talk about change, and higher ed is really changing.”

Magnani said she remains optimistic about working with the college. Unionizing, she said, also gives faculty the opportunity to connect with the other 33 unions in the state and advocate for issues impacting higher education.

“We’re relieved and excited,” Magnani said. “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”