Locked-out Brooklyn LIU faculty finds sympathy in NYC

Long Island University faculty protest the school's lockout of union faculty  outside the  college's Flatbush Avenue entrance  in Downtown Brooklyn  on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016.
Long Island University faculty protest the school’s lockout of union faculty outside the college’s Flatbush Avenue entrance in Downtown Brooklyn on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Dimitrios Kambouris

A newspaper-truck driver honked riotously, waving his encouragement. A few minutes later, a city bus driver did the same.

Carpenters and other local union members held signs, marched and chanted on a picket line Wednesday, protesting the decision by Long Island Universit’s Brooklyn campus to lock out faculty from their offices and email accounts amid contentious contract negotiations.

After the union that represents faculty voted last week to reject the administration’s latest contract offer, members were notified they were no longer welcome on campus. Faculty were told that their health insurance was cut off immediately. On the picket line, a faculty member carried a baby, but also a sign reading: “My Baby Has No Health Insurance.” The Brooklyn faculty wants pay equal to what LIU pays faculty at its Long Island campus.

The university claims it took the lockout step to avoid the chaos of a potential strike. But faculty members say they intended to show up for work. Regardless, this isn’t the way a university should respond to a contract dispute. (Disclosure: I teach at CUNY, have been part of academic unions, and was on the picket line Wednesday.)

The lockout is, according to experts on academic labor, unprecedented. NYC students and workers should support the LIU faculty to ensure that such vicious tactics won’t succeed and be emulated elsewhere.

Classes started this week without the teachers. The university seems to think any warm body can show up and teach anything. An administrator is teaching a dance class previously taught by a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group. A graduate student is teaching classes in subjects she has not studied. Many LIU students feel that they have been robbed, and are walking out of classes, joining the picket line.

Among cities, New York may be most ready for this fight. A recent report by CUNY Graduate Center professors Stephanie Luce and Ruth Milkman found that NYC unions remain strong, defying a national trend.

It was clear on the picket line that workers from other unions felt the LIU professors’ struggle was their own. If that solidarity continues, the LIU faculty just might win.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.