Schoolyard Bully

Metro-Dade Community College president Eduardo Padron has won a reputation as a take-charge leader -- and an intellectual thug

That discontent was greater than anyone realized. "In eleven days nearly 70 percent of the faculty signed cards saying they wanted the union," says Richard, president of the newly elected union. "You only need 30 percent to call an election."

The campaign that followed was a heated one. The pro-union side, with strong support from the AFT, produced a slew of four-color flyers featuring testimonials from faculty, which appeared in professors' mailboxes. Padron cranked out memo after memo to both faculty and administrators questioning the motives of the union organizers and emphasizing that a union would create an adversarial relationship between faculty and administration -- a we/they mentality that clearly already existed.

Some of his dispatches had an unmistakable ring of threat. In a February 2 memorandum to all faculty, for instance, Padron stressed the potential economic risks of voting for a union: "Our faculty could come out with more," he wrote, "they could come out with the same; it is just also possible that they could come out with less."

The week before the election, Padron dropped a bombshell. He announced his intention to eliminate the faculty senates and several collegewide committees if the faculty voted to unionize.

In justifying this move, Padron pointed to a 1978 opinion MDCC's administration obtained from the state Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) in response to a previous unionization drive.

Back then, PERC -- the agency that oversees collective bargaining issues for all public employees in Florida -- noted that faculty senates and a union were "not necessarily" mutually exclusive, and in fact coexisted harmoniously at most schools. In MDCC's case, the opinion notes, once a union is in place, the senates "must arrest the exercise of any jurisdiction directed towards the goal of modifying 'wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.'"

Padron's memo asserted that this PERC decision meant he had to suspend I-80 -- and thus the faculty senates it created -- if the union were voted in. "This in no way is a threat; it is the fact," he intoned.

Actually, it was an interpretation. And not an especially strong one. Nowhere in the PERC decision does it say anything about suspending or eliminating a faculty senate, even if such a body did overlap the purview of a union.

Not all faculty were eligible to vote for the union; 138 department chairs and coordinators were considered management for the purposes of collective bargaining. Of those faculty who were eligible, nearly 90 percent turned out for the election; the vote was 403-183 in favor. The following Monday, March 9, Padron suspended the senates. On the Kendall Campus, the dirty work fell to the academic dean. She and a team of custodians arrived at the senate and consortium offices around 9:00 a.m. They changed the locks on the doors. They removed office furniture. When no key could be found for the file cabinets containing some 30 years of senate records, they forced them open. Padron issued a memo that day informing senators that they had until noon the next day to clear out any personal effects; the administrative staff who worked in those offices was reassigned elsewhere.

Union president Richard says he and many faculty saw these actions as blatant retaliation.

"I told Dr. Padron on Monday, around noon, 'Hold on a minute. Assume that your position [on closing the senates] is legitimate, which it is not. Well, the only one that could complain that you are somehow doing something improper [by letting the senates continue to exist] would be the union. I'll put it in writing that the senates can continue to exist. The union has no objection. We're supporters of the senate, provided of course that we agree that their jurisdiction isn't wages, hours, and working conditions.'

"And he laughed. He was teasing me. 'Professor Richard, are you supporting the senate? You're the union, I'm trying to do you a favor and exclusively recognize you.' I said, 'You're not doing me any favor. What you're doing is playing a game that, at best, looks like fascism.'"

Padron maintains that he was obligated to act as he did. Even if the union endorsed the continuing existence of the senates, he insists, there was no way to prevent senators from discussing union issues. That might constitute unfair labor practices, for which the union could sue the university. "And then we are the ones who are liable," Padron notes. "The administration is responsible."

On April 3 some 40 MDCC senators from all five campuses gathered on Florida International University's Tamiami Campus. They were wearing black armbands in memory of ... well, themselves. Technically, they no longer existed, as senators anyway.

The grumbling ranks of Miami-Dade profs, the foot soldiers at the lowest tier of higher learning, trickled into the student government meeting hall just past the Pollo Tropical inside FIU's Graham Center. Many of these erstwhile senators could (and still might) write a monograph or dissertation on the events that led to the pro-union vote and the dissolution of their senates. But if you were to limit them to a fill-in-the-blank question, "Whose fault is it that you're sitting here with a piece of black crepe paper tied around your biceps?" the answer would be unanimous: Eduardo Padron.

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