Just when I thought that unions were a dying breed (along with any recognition of workers’ rights), two groups of employees in Sarasota have recently voted to unionize: the faculty at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and the newsroom of Sarasota’s local newspaper, the Herald-Tribune.
Kudos to both. Teaching and news reporting are worth fighting for.
SCF faculty had to do something after the disastrous decision by its Trustees to eliminate tenure for all new hires, making SCF unique among Florida state colleges.
Tenure is mainly defended for the philosophical reason of “academic freedom.” This isn’t just a highbrow concept; it has practical implications for those of us who have taught and researched topics that are controversial (and in the world of academia where just about anything is questioned, that means just about everything.) Imagine researching global warming, reproductive rights, religious tolerance, genetic engineering, or a theory of limited growth in Florida’s current political environment. Your career would be at risk.
But tenure is more than just academic freedom. It is what the business world would normally concede to be a “best practice” because why on earth would any professor of merit, i.e., a scholar who worked for 10+ years to earn a Ph.D. and establish a strong c.v., choose to join an outlier college that did not offer job security when there are other choices available? In addition, the academic world is scheduled to at least one year out for jobs, conference papers, grants, journal submissions, and invited lectures. The offer of a one-year contract means that new hires will need to apply right away for their next job. One foot out the door is not a way to build a dedicated faculty.
It’s no surprise, then, that the faculty at SCF Manatee-Sarasota, voted last week 75-25 to unionize.
Decisions were also made at the Herald-Tribune that threatened the workforce and the integrity of their work. From 2006-2008, the HT cut its workforce by one-third. Within the last five years, the paper was owned by the NY Times Co., sold to the Halifax Media Group in 2011, then acquired in 2015 by GateHouse Media. As expected, layoffs followed the acquisition; 16 newsroom employees lost their jobs.
For the newsroom employees at the Herald-Tribune, the September 15 decision to unionize appears to have been a difficult one. The vote to unionize was 22-16; a number that is sad not just because it shows divisiveness, but because of the sum: there are only 38 newsroom employees left.
The downsizing of staff made it possible for the HT to announce in August that it will move from its iconic Main Street building to three floors of the SunTrust building next store. Meanwhile Senior Editor, Bill Church, will leave the HT effective September 26 to take a promotion to Senior Vice President of News at GateHouse in Austen. Apparently he achieved in Sarasota what he was hired to do.
So pay attention workers of Sarasota–workers’ rights are at a nadir and unions may be on the rise. Hmmmmmm. Cause and effect?