Labor spotlight

LIU faculty ‘blindsided’ by ‘terrifying’ lockout

Sudden cut of pay and benefits is university’s latest anti-union ploy

Students joined LIU Brooklyn faculty members on Sept. 14 to protest the lockout El-Wise Noisette Students joined LIU Brooklyn faculty members on Sept. 14 to protest the lockout by the university that disrupted the beginning of fall semester classes.
UFT Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds (left) and NYSUT Pres El-Wise Noisette

UFT Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds (left) and NYSUT President Karen Magee join the protest.

At midnight on Sept. 2, at the start of the Labor Day weekend, about 400 faculty members at Long Island University Brooklyn were locked out of school with three days left in their contract negotiations.

The university cut off access to their email. It took the professors off payroll and suspended their health insurance. Their offices, filled with all sorts of professional and personal possessions, were suddenly off-limits.

The action “was unprecedented not only at LIU but nationwide,” said Stacey Horstmann-Gatti, the acting chair of the History Department. “It was so fundamentally disruptive,” she said, that faculty members were stunned when she spread the news.

They felt “horribly betrayed,” she said. It was “terrifying for a lot of people.”

Joseph Dorinson has been a member of the faculty for 50 years. He has survived at least eight strikes, including one that lasted six weeks. Yet he said the 12-day lockout, which ended with a contract extension while bargaining continues, was “the worst experience” he’s gone through at LIU.

“We were blindsided,” Dorinson said.

While he is at the tail end of his career, the history professor said, “We have young families that found themselves in desperate straits.”

Horstmann-Gatti has taught at the Brooklyn campus since 2005. She lived through the shutdown of the Southampton campus, where she worked earlier in her career. “Having a campus fail was terrible but we were able to move on. Having administration essentially sabotage a university was worse,” she said.

Clarence Mims was one of about 200 adjunct teachers affected. “To be denied pay was an attack on my financial welfare and that of my family,” he said.

The lockout was the culmination of a series of anti-union maneuvers by the university president, Kimberly Cline, according to Jessica Rosenberg, the president of the Long Island University Faculty Federation, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Cline, who became president in 2013, has not worked well with campus unions, Rosenberg said. Three years ago, there were six unions; today, there are four and not one has been able to negotiate a contract, she said. Jobs previously done by members of the other two unions, security and janitorial services, have been outsourced, she said.

The lockout — which is the opposite of a strike, when workers walk off the job — spawned a groundswell of outrage from LIU students, faculty from other universities and members of other labor unions.

Rosenberg, who is a professor of social work, said the borough is not the place to try to bust a union. “Brooklyn is a very special place,” she said. “We’re a union town. We have a lot of union support.”

That support was manifested in protest rallies at the Brooklyn campus, at the Labor Day parade in Manhattan and on social media.

“The New York City labor movement came together to speak out against this unprecedented attack,” said UFT Vice President Janella Hinds, who also serves as the secretary-treasurer of the NYC Central Labor Council. “The UFT was proud to stand in solidarity with NYSUT and the AFT as well as other city and state locals to support the locked-out faculty members.”

The experience was a wake-up call to faculty members.

“As educators,” Horstmann-Gatti said, “we think our jobs are somehow different. And now we realize there are some who see us as replaceable cogs in a machine, not as valued professionals. The disregard for who we are and what we do is the hardest thing to deal with.”

Dorinson said he tries “to teach by example, whether I’m in the classroom or out.” When younger teachers asked for his advice, he told them to “remain unified and fight for what is our due.”

The students also heeded that lesson.

They organized themselves, had daily protests, walked out of classes, wrote letters of complaint, made artwork and used social media to support their teachers.

They “were very creative in the way young people are,” Rosenberg said. They “were fighting for social justice and feeling the empowerment that happens when you fight as a collective. I imagine for many, especially because they’re young, this was a life-changing event.”

Horstmann-Gatti said, “My heart just swelled as I heard them chant, ‘Let us learn.’” On the other side of the fence, she said, the teachers answered with “Let us teach.”

“It was the most gratifying experience I think I have ever had as an educator to see the students rise up and say that we matter,” Horstmann-Gatti said. “It’s what’s given me the strength to walk back on campus.”

Dorinson said the first thing the faculty did when they went back to the classroom was to talk about what had happened. “We talked about labor, we talked about unions, we talked about this action, and we said this is a teaching as well as a learning moment,” he said. “My daughter told me, ‘You must suspend the syllabus and deal with the issue because that’s education.’ She was absolutely right.”

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