Labor Issues
September 08, 2016

Students protest LIU administration; locked out faculty members file for unemployment

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT Communications
liu faculty file for unemployment
Caption: LIU faculty gathered at a Brooklyn cafe to assist and support each other in filing unemployment claims. Photo by Matt Jacobs.

BROOKLYN - Locked out full-time and adjunct professors at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus received a strong show of support Thursday from students who walked out of class en masse to protest the historic Sept. 2 anti-labor action imposed by the school’s administration, which faculty members claim is intent on union-busting.

During a lunch-hour rally in a blistering 90-degree heat, emotions ran the gamut from sadness to shock and disbelief to complete outrage as students, professors and unionists from NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers chanted “L-I-U, shame on you!” over the chaotic sound of bumper-to-bumper traffic along Flatbush Avenue.

“I feel really betrayed by my university,” said Emily Drabinski, a librarian and secretary-treasurer of the 400-member NYSUT-affiliated Long Island University Faculty Federation. “I bleed Blackbird nation, and I thought I’d be here forever. For them to just cast me out onto the street to file for unemployment is a tragedy.

“I’m livid, outraged and angry,” said Drabinski, who choked up as she spoke of her 8-year-old son. “He knows there’s something going on. I’m working every minute I’m awake to get our jobs back.

“I miss him,” she added, fighting back tears.

  • See interview with Drabinski.

Ed Keane, a member of the LIUFF negotiating team, said while his colleagues are “collectively stressed” about no longer being paid, they are even more worried about not having health care.

“We have members who are on high-priced prescription medication that they need to take regularly,” he said. “Others are single parents and some have sick children at home. The stress that’s been caused by not having health care has been enormous.”

  • See interview with Keane.

The lockout is not just adversely impacting faculty. Anxiety is also running high amongst students, especially since LIU faculty has been replaced by non-faculty members such as administrators and “substitute” teachers from outside the school — without syllabuses or appropriate texts.

“I quit my job so I could go back to school full-time, and now they pushed the date up for dropping courses to Sept. 13 from Sept. 20," said Heidi Flanagan, a junior education major. “I have five days now to decide whether I want to stay in a class with a teacher who isn’t qualified. But I can’t really leave, either, because I quit my job to return to school. It makes me furious.”

Taylor Herndon, a freshman communications major, said if the lockout is not lifted soon, she might leave school.

“I’m from Washington D.C.,” Herndon said. “I never heard anything bad about this school, but then I get here and this happens. I’m just very shocked.

“All the professors want to do is teach,” Herndon added. “And all we want to do is learn. But we’re not being allowed.” Yianna Richey, an accounting major, echoed her friend’s concerns.

“I’m confused: How am I expected to sit in my classes when the teachers are not qualified? If I have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to go here, shouldn’t I be receiving the best education possible?”

The contract for the LIUFF, which has been in negotiations since April, expired Aug. 31. Talks between the union and the administration went on for several hours Thursday, but little progress was made. The union offered to return to work with retroactive pay from Sept. 1 and said it would enter federal mediation if no agreement was reached in two weeks, but their proposal was turned down, members said.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee and Vice President Catalina Fortino were expected to join AFT President Randi Weingarten at LIU Brooklyn Friday for a press conference and teach-in. Friday also marks the launch of a new NYSUT ad campaign in the Daily News Brooklyn edition and in three weekly Brooklyn newspapers calling on LIU administrators to end the lockout, return to good-faith bargaining and pledging the statewide union’s support for members.

“This is about an assault on unionized faculty,” said Michael Pelias, a philosophy professor and LIUFF Executive Committee and negotiating team member. “The median family income for students here is $65,000. Many are first, or second-generation college students. It’s class warfare.”

Several blocks away from campus, at a hip Brooklyn coffee house on Atlantic Avenue, LIUFF members sat in a backroom at small tables where they filed for unemployment benefits on laptops provided by the AFT. Signs taped on a projection screen above a small performance stage provided members with instruction on how to navigate the filing system. A placard displaying LIU’s federal tax number sat atop a covered piano near the stage.

“Being here with my colleagues and filing for unemployment — it’s a strange experience,” said Ralph Engelman, a journalism professor and LIUFF vice president. “It’s like were plunging into the unknown. So yes, there is anxiety, that’s for sure. But at the same time, there is also a strong sense of solidarity.”

Melissa Antiori, an LIUFF negotiating team member, agreed.

“Our members are angry and heartbroken,” she said. “But the support of NYSUT, the AFT and the students — which we very much appreciate — will make it possible for us to get a contract, and a fair one.”

Drabinski, who this morning filed for unemployment and spent the rest of the day helping her colleagues through the process, said she was particularly struck while assisting a math professor who has been at LIU for 51 years.

“He’s been here since 1965. He’s given his life to this place,” Drabinski said, her voice cracking with emotion. “ To be with me, sitting here today having to sign up for unemployment instead of being in class teaching kids math is a tragedy.”


SUPPORT THE SOLIDARITY FUND

Please show your support for the LIU Brooklyn faculty in their fight for fairness and equity with a donation to the LIU Lockout Solidarity Fund.