A deafening applause erupted after Jeremiah Tattersall said UF’s permanent preeminence demands permanent employees.
Tattersall and around 40 OPS workers, UF students and civilians protested the discussed mass firing of OPS workers at the university outside of UF President Kent Fuchs’ mansion Sunday.
Tattersall, lead organizer of the Alachua County Labor Coalition and former UF other personnel services (OPS) worker, said the university treats OPS workers poorly, refusing to offer them benefits, paid leave or job security.
The university was shut down for four days during Hurricane Irma in 2017. OPS workers did not receive any compensation during this break, but permanent workers did, Tattersall said.
UF’s reasoning behind not paying OPS employees was that it was “illegal” due to policy, Tattersall said. However, Alachua County Public School’s temporary workers did receive pay for the mandated off days.
“We’ve been pressuring the University of Florida to reclassify OPS workers as permanent workers,” Tattersall said. “If we want to stay (as a top 10 university), then we have to have employees that stay (at UF).”
The protest began at 2 p.m. when a bus filled with OPS workers pulled into the parking lot. Alumni, children and professors also attended the event.
More than 10 individuals spoke at the event, each one explaining their reason for protesting. The group also chanted while holding up signs that read “We demand $15 & Union Rights.”
Reagle, who would not share her first name, left her OPS position at the Florida Museum of Natural History last week. She said she felt strongly about speaking out because everyone else in her position was too afraid to.
“The (museum) environment is very toxic. Everyone’s depressed (and) anxious because they don’t know what’s going on,” Reagle said of the mass firings.
UF associate professor in the Department of History Paul Ortiz said Fuchs should value the voices of the OPS employees and support them in becoming permanent workers.
The services temporary employees provide are essential to the campus community, Ortiz said, and it pains him to see people not being paid adequately.
“We are all in this together,” Ortiz said. “We’ve got to make sure everyone feels that they’re a member of the Gator Nation, and they don’t feel that if they’re treated unfairly.”
The protest lasted over an hour and concluded with the protesters moving from the grass on the edge of the parking lot to the front gate of the mansion to see if Fuchs would make an appearance.
He did not.
Tattersall and Ortiz hope the protest will encourage UF to give clear instructions to department heads on what exactly needs to be done to keep employees from being unnecessarily fired. He explained that to succeed in the future, Fuchs and university officials need to engage more with the community.
“If you need someone to work a position for more than a year, or 17 in some cases, then that’s not a temporary position,” Tattersall said. “Make it permanent.”