On Feb. 16, over 30 drivers circled the Pensacola State College-Warrington Campus buildings for half an hour, laying on their horns. Signs saying “High Risk” and “Betrayal” were taped to their vehicles. This action was led by the Pensacola State College Faculty Association, a chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF). The faculty were protesting the inhumane conditions they have been subjected to by the PSC administration, who have done virtually nothing to protect them from COVID-19 exposure — after unilaterally forcing them to teach classes in person.
About 70% of PSC faculty are union members, and many of them were on the car caravan, which circled the campus during a tour of the school given to the Board of Trustees by the college administration. The timing was intentional — to force the school administrators and PSC Board of Trustees to see that faculty members are fed up with the negligence of their health.
Union member Alex Ledgerwood explained that the administration, when approached by faculty with contract language saying they do not work in unsafe conditions, proceeded to change the definition of “unsafe conditions” to only mean “problems with the air conditioning and chemical leaks,” not COVID. This blatant attack means faculty have had to teach classes with little to no protection. PSC said classrooms would be cleaned daily; no cleaning has taken place. PSC said air filters would be changed regularly, but few have been changed; and faculty have still not received a list of locations where they have actually been changed!
Faculty requested accommodations following CDC guidelines and were promptly denied this by the administration.
Educators continually neglected in Florida
Throughout the entire pandemic, the question of whether or not educators and school workers are “essential workers” has been a long, unnecessary debate. Educators and school workers are absolutely essential workers, but during this pandemic they have been subjected to mistreatment and neglect that has claimed the lives of at least 530 of them.
Few places exemplify this neglect more than Florida, where Governor and Trump-loyalist Ron DeSantis has all but ignored pleas and demands of school workers. DeSantis stated that teachers would not be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine right away, claiming it is because he is prioritizing “seniors first.” The real problem is that Florida does not have nearly enough vaccines, and the entire vaccination process is being mismanaged by state government.
DeSantis has ultimately left the decision of virtual vs. in-person instruction to each individual state college and university. Many have gone virtual, but one that has not is Pensacola State College, a community college in Pensacola and Milton. PSC opened in 1948 and became the first institute of higher learning in Pensacola; it currently has at least 7,000 students in several locations around Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. Originally PSC was known as Pensacola Junior College and offered only associate degrees, but changed its name to Pensacola State College in 2010 after it began offering bachelor’s degrees.
PSC has gained the reputation of being a potential superspreader site for COVID, due to refusing to let faculty teach remotely unless they go through a strenuous Americans with Disabilities Act process. Ledgerwood commented that very few faculty members have received ADA accommodations to allow them to teach from home.
At the beginning of the pandemic, PSC administration and faculty were at the table together, trying to negotiate safety procedures for faculty and students. Now the administration has completely shut out the faculty, making decisions without consulting them, which has led to a total breakdown of communication. The union is demanding the administration resume negotiations for safe conditions to reduce the chance of COVID-19 infection.
UFF president Karen Morian said: “We are hoping that faculty receives the protection that they deserve. We are hoping that this opens up a line of communication with the Board of Trustees. The faculty is tired of being shut out, being neglected and being condescended to. The administration is not listening to us, so we are bringing it to them.”
Devin Cole is a transgender Marxist organizer and writer. They are the president of Strive (Socialist Trans Initiative), a transgender advocacy organization in northwest Florida, and a member of the Workers World Party — Central Gulf Coast (Alabama, Florida and Mississippi) branch.