Edward Waters University doesn't recognize educator union

The union says it’s taking legal action because no one from the administration is communicating with them.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville’s only Historically Black University does not recognize its educator union anymore. The university said it has the right to do that for religious reasons. 

That decision was the last straw for Dr. Felicia Wider 

Lewis said a bridge was burned between them. Wider Lewis used to be a math instructor at the HBCU. She said the staff there did not respect the faculty. First Coast News talked to the professor on the phone. She described the treatment toward the faculty as poor, and they were offered low wages. 

“It was wage suppression,” Lewis frankly stated. “There’s no cost of living increases, you know? As everything else rises around you.” 

Lewis said members of the American Association of University Professors wanted to negotiate a new contract. Something, they’ve been attempting since 2018. 

“We were asking for frequency. We wanted the contract by May so that it could take effect by August,” Lewis explained. 

Instead, the faculty received a different response. First Coast News obtained a letter that was sent to the faculty on May 9, 2022. It read the Supreme Court and National Labor Relations Board allows the university to be “driven by its faith-based Christian mission, rather than the political agendas often associated with federal labor policies.” 

The letter mentioned how EWU’s new governing structure allows them to “enhance our standard of employee compensation and benefits to present a more equitable outcome for our deserving faculty.” It also bragged about how faculty members were getting a thousand dollar bonus, which is supposed to be a 900% increase since December 2017. 

“They don’t want to pay people, but they want to be able to dictate,” Wider Lewis said. “‘The buck stops with them’ as they would say in a negotiation meeting.” 

In a statement from Dr. Kenneth Davis, EWU’s union president, it reads “The EWU chapter of AAUP has support of the faculty, national chapter and many other labor organizations in the fight for our barging rights. Due to no response from the Chairman of the Board to a letter sent this summer or any discussion from the administration prior to their decision to stop recognizing the union we were forced to retained legal counsel in this matter.”

First Coast News reached out to the HBCU for comment. 

“Respectfully, the university is not able to comment due to pending litigation with the union” 

As for Lewis, she is still teaching. This time, as a high school math teacher and described the grass being “greener” on the other side. The former professor said there is nothing EWU can say or do for her to return. 

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