by Jeremiah Tattersall
Lead Organizer, Alachua County Labor Coalition
University of Florida OPS (temporary staff and adjunct faculty) workers continue their fight for better working conditions with the help of the Alachua County Labor Coalition.
The campaign started in September 2017, after OPS workers were left with nearly a week without pay, due to Hurricane Irma. All UF workers except the over 15,000 OPS employees were paid for these and other school closures.
OPS workers continue to face extreme hardship due to this policy of UF, with many facing mounting debts, days of hunger, losing health insurance, and at least one OPS worker becoming homeless.
Once OPS workers started organizing around paid leave during forced closures, they discovered they shared experiences of exploitation due to their status as long term “temporary” employees.
These OPS workers receive no paid vacation or paid sick leave and all are required to pay into the alternative FICA system in which the University of Florida contributes no money to their Social Security. Temporary work is defined by the IRS as employment lasting less than a year. Yet 68 percent of UF’s non-student hourly OPS workers have been employed for more than 1 year, 47 percent more than 2 years, and 22 percent more than 5 years.
The exploitation of the OPS classification was further demonstrated on Jan. 1, 2016 when the University of Florida increased the minimum wage for all non-temporary workers to $12 an hour, leaving behind over 15,000 OPS workers.
It is no surprise that OPS workers are disproportionately people of color and women. Non-student hourly OPS workers are 60 percent people of color and 57 percent female. The median OPS hourly wage for a black male is $12 an hour and $12.60 an hour for Hispanic males.
In February 2018, the UF Student Senate passed two resolutions in support of OPS workers — one to reclassify long-term OPS workers in order to stop the University’s abuse of the “temporary” label, and a second resolution affirming that OPS workers should be paid for lost time during Hurricane Irma.
A similar resolution has been working its way through the UF Faculty Senate and will be voted on at the April 19 meeting at 3pm in the Reitz Union.
These resolutions are important, as both the Chair of the Faculty Senate and the Student Body President have seats on the 13 member Board of Trustees, the governing body of the University of Florida.
OPS workers and the Alachua County Labor Coalition will continue to ratchet up the pressure on UF administration at the Faculty Senate meeting and upcoming Board of Trustees meetings.
Please visit the Alachua County Labor Coalition at LaborCoalition.org to find out more about the campaign for dignity for OPS workers, including a collection of over 500 survey responses about OPS working conditions at UF, a white paper analysis, and ways to get involved. D