September 2016 Issue - Labor Issues
September 23, 2016

Union, student solidarity bolsters LIU faculty during lockout

Author: By Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Students stage a walkout in support of LIU faculty who were locked out by university adminitration.
Caption: Students stage a walkout in support of LIU faculty who were locked out by university adminitration.

The NYSUT-affiliated union of full-time and adjunct faculty at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus emerged from a 12-day lockout victorious, returning to the classroom with a fair contract and with pride after unions and students showed them unwavering solidarity.

"From the very beginning, teachers wanted to teach and students wanted to learn," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "In locking out faculty, administrators at LIU Brooklyn did students and faculty a tremendous disservice — and everyone knew it. The faculty's unity, widespread community outrage and heart-warming support from students were the pillars on which this positive result was built."

LIU President Kimberly Cline's decision in early September to lock out faculty — an anti-labor action believed unprecedented at a private university — sent the Brooklyn campus into turmoil, leaving students uncertain about their education and faculty reeling from being barred from their jobs and losing pay and benefits, such as health insurance.

"I feel really betrayed by my university," said Emily Drabinski, a librarian and LIU Faculty Federation secretary-treasurer, as the lockout reached the one-week point. "To just cast me out onto the street to file for unemployment is a tragedy. I'm livid, outraged and angry."

Still, the 400-member LIUFF was buoyed throughout the ordeal by widespread support from organized labor, as well as support from students who staged a walkout in a show of solidarity with their teachers.

Magee, NYSUT vice presidents Catalina Fortino and Paul Pecorale and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined faculty and students during a rally to protest Cline's action.

"NYSUT and its 620,000 members stand with you in solidarity!" Magee told the roaring crowd on the campus quad along Flatbush Avenue. "We stand in solidarity with the teachers, with the students and with the community!"

Also picketing in support of the LIUFF were members of the United Federation of Teachers, the United University Professions at SUNY, Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, faculty from LIU's C.W. Post suburban campus and United College Employees of SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology, United Auto Workers representing graduate assistants and adjuncts at New York University and the New School, the Civil Service Employees Association, the Operating Engineers Local 30 and Carpenters Union representatives.

"It's a strange experience," said Ralph Engelman, a journalism professor and LIUFF vice president after he finished filing for unemployment at a coffee house a few blocks away from the Brooklyn campus. "It's like we're 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, said the lockout made members angry and heartbroken. "But the support of NYSUT, the AFT and the students, which we very much appreciated, [made it] possible for us to get a contract, and a fair one."

Unions kept up the pressure on LIU. A NYSUT ad campaign in New York City newspapers called on campus administrators to end the lockout and to return to good-faith bargaining. Magee and Weingarten also sent a joint letter to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, urging SED to become engaged in the crisis "for the protection of the student body and university."

The contract for the LIUFF, which had been in negotiations since April, expired Aug. 31. Though talks continued in the days following Cline's lockout order, little progress had been made. Finally, the union and university reached a late-night agreement Sept. 14, under which the LIUFF contract would be extended until May 31, 2017. The university agreed to make faculty whole for any health care costs incurred during the lockout, and to employ a mediator who will help forge a fair contract.

"The whole LIU Brooklyn community, and the larger labor community of New York City, the state and the nation, came together to tell the administration to end this lockout," LIUFF President Jessica Rosenberg said.

"After 12 days of intransigence, the LIU administration discovered that denying students the education they deserve is never a successful strategy," she said.

Weingarten called the administration's actions during the dispute contemptible. "This is a huge win for the 8,000 LIU Brooklyn students who have a right to a real education taught by their real professors after two school weeks of uncertainty," she said. "And, it is a huge step for dignity and respect for those educators."