Unprecedented lockout of faculty at LIU Brooklyn

Faculty members at Long Island University Brooklyn were locked out on September 2 by the school’s President Kimberly Cline five days before classes are to resume for the fall semester.

Long Island University (LIU) is a private university with two main campuses: one in Brooklyn and the other in suburban Nassau County.

Cline announced the lockout during ongoing contract negotiations with the Long Island University Federation of Faculty (LIUFF), which represents the university’s faculty and adjunct faculty members. The old collective bargaining agreement expired on September 1.

“This unprecedented, hostile action by the administration was taken while the faculty union. . . continued to negotiate its contract in good faith,” said Emily Drabinski, secretary of LIUFF.

“The administration has taken an unprecedented act of aggression and hostility against our faculty and students by preemptively locking the faculty out of coming to work effective Friday, September 2nd at midnight” said Jessica Rosenberg, president of LIUFF after the lockout was announced.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the spring. LIUFF has been seeking raises for both faculty and adjunct faculty that will bring them closer to parity with their academic counterparts at LIU Post, the LIU campus in Nassau County.

“Almost 50 percent of Brooklyn full-time faculty makes less than our counterparts at Post at rank level,” Rosenberg said to Seawanhakathe student newspaper at LIU Brooklyn, last spring.

The administration on the other hand wants to maintain the pay gap between LIU’s two campuses and wring concessions from the faculty.

If the administration’s concession demands make it into the final collective bargaining agreement, adjuncts would be especially hard hit.

The administration is proposing workload changes that could result in fewer teaching hours for many adjuncts, which according to Drabinski would result “in a 25 percent cut in earning potential.”

The administration also wants to stop contributing to the Adjunct Benefits Trust Fund, used by adjuncts to purchase health insurance, and stop seniority payments, used by some adjuncts to make contributions to the pension plan.

In addition to concessions, the administration wants a collective bargaining agreement that establishes a two-tiered benefit system in which the university contributes less pension money for new hires and limits their options for health insurance.

The new pay scale proposed by the administration would lower pay for newly hired adjunct faculty by hundreds of dollars as well.

Rather than bargaining over these issues, the administration wants to force faculty members to accept the terms of an agreement that it dictates.

To do so, the administration has tried to turn students against faculty by telling the students that a fair contract for faculty will result in higher tuition for students, whose tuition is already high.

This threat sounds a bit disingenuous. In April President Cline was bragging to the student newspaper that the university is on solid financial footing with assets of more than $36 million and an endowment of more than $135 million.

LIU also told students that by not accepting the administration’s terms, faculty members were disregarding students and their education.

The administration then showed how much regard it had for its students by locking out their teachers and hiring ill-prepared replacement teachers. In addition, it is forcing administration employees to teach classes during the lockout.

Faculty also have been the target of threats. In letters and messages, faculty were told that unless they accepted the administration’s dictates, their health insurance would be canceled.

Despite the administration’s campaign to force capitulation, LIUFF has said that it will continue to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement.

“We are continuing to negotiate on Labor Day and continuing to stand up for all faculty and, as importantly, for our students,” said Drabinski.  “The negotiating team will not capitulate to an egregious and onerous contract, and we will not let the administration divide the faculty and attack our freedom and autonomy to teach and create.”

LIUFF has called for a solidarity demonstration at the LIU Brooklyn campus on September 7, the opening day of classes, and is urging people to send letters of solidarity to LIU Brooklyn’s administration.

“We are going to seek resolution,” says Rosenberg. “That’s our charge, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But we’re not going to allow ourselves to be bullied and intimidated by an administration that has shown no respect for the work that we do.”

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