The president of the College of the Florida Keys this week denied allegations of retaliation against a pro-union faculty member whose employment contract with the college was not renewed.
A discussion started in October 2019 among some faculty members who expressed interest in union representation, and on Oct. 23, United Faculty of Florida, the statewide union that represents college faculty members, filed a petition with the state labor commission to represent College of the Florida Keys faculty.
“Computer science professor Steve Prettyman was the first to inform Gueverra that faculty wished to unionize and he has been a target ever since,” states the unfair labor practice complaint that United Faculty of Florida filed March 2 on behalf of the CFK faculty.
The complaint claims that Gueverra, who said he has worked with unions throughout his career as a college administrator, “has taken unlawful and increasingly desperate acts to prevent faculty from forming a union. Gueverra has forced faculty to sit through anti-union propaganda meetings; threatened to withhold faculty raises and benefits; and now terminated the contracts of faculty who spoke out in favor of the union. These actions have stunned CFK faculty and staff.”
Prettyman, who has been with the college for four years, states in the complaint, “The poor treatment of faculty has been going on for many years. Faculty have in the past voiced their grievances and attempted to unionize. The administration uses the same tactics, releasing those of us who are the most vocal, and using threats and intimidation to discourage others. That must end.”
Prettyman also spoke at the March 3 college board meeting, along with Marshall Ogletree, executive director of UFF.
At the meeting, Ogletree asked the college board to rescind the college’s termination of Prettyman. “I’d ask you to stop these retaliatory actions,” Ogletree said.
In an interview with The Weekly after the college board meeting, Gueverra and Brittany Snyder, vice president of academic affairs, had a different explanation for the decision not to renew Prettyman’s contract, and it had nothing to do with retaliation for Prettyman’s pro-union position.
“Every year as we look at our budget, we have employees whose contracts will not be renewed,” Gueverra said. “When Professor Prettyman was hired four years ago, he said he had a national reputation and could help the college get its numbers up in the computer science arena.”
But after two years, Gueverra said, “the computer programs, as they existed under Prettyman, were not meeting the industry’s needs and we realized we weren’t graduating students out of these programs.”
College administrators, including Snyder, decided two years ago to end the computer science program and develop a “teach-out program” to wrap it up and ensure all participating students received the classes and credits they had planned.
“Professor Prettyman knew at least two years ago that there was a plan to finish out the program,” Snyder said. “He even helped us to develop the teach-out program to ensure students got what they needed before it ended.
“Then this year, Prettyman became president of the faculty council despite Gueverra’s request for some senior faculty members to step up and fill that leadership position,” Snyder said.
When reached by The Weekly on March 4, Prettyman said, “the computer science program was scheduled to be completed this spring. However, there was no indication that I would not have a job after the end of my contract this year, until I was told on Feb. 14 or 15, which clearly looks like retaliation for my support of the faculty union.
“In the summer and fall of 2019, all indications were that I would go under a different dean after the program was completed and be similar to an English or Math Professor. I would be teaching some computer science courses…, but there would no longer be a degree.”
The faculty vote over whether to unionize will take place this month.
In order for the unionization to pass, a majority of those who cast ballots must be in favor of the measure, Gueverra said.
“It’s not a majority of the faculty, but a majority of those who vote,” he said, adding that in his own personal experience, unionized faculty often have “more stringent” working conditions than non-union faculties.
“Despite not having a union, we’ve given a higher percentage of raises than unionized faculties,” Gueverra said. “We’ve also had faculty members who have been dealing with personal family issues, and we, of course, have stepped in to help them without batting an eye. But the language in some union contracts would prohibit me or another administrator from covering that faculty member’s class while they dealt with family situations.
“There’s just a lot of misinformation out there, and this is just a distraction by a few people who are unhappy with circumstances they themselves created.”
Ballots will be mailed this month to faculty members’ home address and will have to be returned to the state labor commission by April 9, according to the UFF grievance.