June 25, 2017

LIU Librarians, Faculty Return After 12-Day Lockout

liulockout

Students rally in support of Long Island University faculty.
Photo courtesy of New York State United Teachers

When classes began on the Brooklyn, NY campus of Long Island University (LIU) September 7, students found their professors barred from campus and replaced by alternate instructors. A contract stalemate between LIU-Brooklyn faculty and management had resulted in an unprecedented lockout of 400 faculty members by administration days before the new semester began. An added workload for library faculty was one of the disputed points.

Thanks to coordinated protests from faculty and students and the support of the LIU Faculty Federation (LIUFF), however, the 12-day lockout ended after a six-hour negotiating session on September 14. Professors and adjuncts were back in their classrooms on the 15th, and a contract extension will give both parties until May 31, 2017, to reach a solution.

DIFFICULT NEGOTIATIONS

At the end of August, both sides were deep in negotiations on the faculty union contract set to expire August 31. The major issue at stake was the gap between salaries at LIU-Brooklyn and the university’s C.W. Post campus in Brookville, Long Island, NY. On average, faculty at LIU-Brooklyn earn about $10,000 less annually than their Long Island counterparts. Other disputed items included proposed cuts to benefits, shortened hours and pay cuts for adjunct instructors, a two-tier system resulting in lower pay for new adjuncts, a post-tenure review clause, and an added workload of 15 days per year for library faculty.

Where LIUFF wanted the new three-year contract to reflect parity between the two campuses, LIU management said, in turn, that the union was asking for a contract the university couldn’t afford. The disparity was a result of past contracts, LIU representatives said, and while it was willing to work to close the gap—anticipating parity five years down the line—it couldn’t be done immediately. Management made what it said at the time was a final offer to the union on Thursday, September 1. The union countered with a request for a 30-day contract extension, which the administration turned down.

At midnight of September 2, LIU administration announced a lockout of all union faculty. Those who arrived on campus on the Friday before the Labor Day weekend found themselves blocked from classrooms and campus email accounts; their health insurance benefits had also been cut off.

In their place, replacement instructors were either hired for the purpose through Monster.com or recruited from non-union administration and support staff. LIU administration had required faculty to submit their syllabi in July, which, said Emily Drabinski, LIU coordinator of library instruction and secretary of LIUFF (and a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker), were then repurposed by the new instructors. “The replacement workers were not equivalent to faculty,” explained Drabinski. “They were drawn from administrative roles all over the university, people teaching who have no expertise, or the wrong expertise. Our library dean was teaching MFA classes.” Faculty, in turn, were left with no income.

According to LIU, the lockout was used as a pre-emptive tool to avoid a strike; five out of the last six contract negotiations have ended in strikes, most recently a six-day faculty walkout on both campuses at the beginning of the 2011 academic year. Lockouts have been used as a tool in other labor and pro sports disputes. But labor historians can’t recall a university ever locking out faculty members.

Although LIU claimed that salary parity would lead to higher tuition, LIUFF noted in a statement that “an administration that cares about students would not use them as pawns in an attempt to break the faculty union. They would not put their educations at risk by sending in unprepared teachers.  And they would not prevent the faculty from doing their jobs.  Whatever this lockout is about, it is not about the welfare of our students. And it is certainly not about education.”

NEITHER DIVIDED NOR CONQUERED

At a September 6 meeting faculty rejected the contract proposed by management 226–0, with the faculty senate voting 135–10 for no confidence in LIU president Kimberly Cline and vice president for academic affairs Jeffrey Kane.

In addition to the lack of salary parity, library faculty were singled out for a workload increase, as well as cuts to overload pay—compensation for teaching extra sessions because of overenrollment. Those three extra workweeks for LIU’s library faculty would have been in addition to 20 days that the 2011 contract negotiations had added to their workload. “We are treated as full faculty,” said Drabinski during negotiations. “We’re productive scholars and productive members of the library community. And they’re really seeking to undercut our ability to do that work in this new contract. And it’s also just a divide and conquer strategy.”

Added reference and instruction Librarian Eamon Tewell, “We really took that to be a way to…separate the librarians from the rest of the herd and make it easier for [LIU] to balance [its] budget.”

On Wednesday, September 7, students, faculty, staff, and activists sympathetic to their cause massed outside the university’s main building on Flatbush Avenue to protest the lockout and demand that LIU reinstate its professors. Students, whose annual tuition tops $34,000, were angry that their classes were being taught by unqualified staff members and concerned that their degrees would be affected by the use of non-accredited instructors. Videos posted on Twitter showed students chanting, “What do we want? Our professors! When do we want them? NOW!” Faculty carried signs reading “Let Us Teach.”

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) immediately contacted regional and specialized accrediting agencies, such as Moody’s Investors Service, alerting them to the lockout and what it potentially meant for the quality of education students were receiving. The New York State Department of Education Board of Regents was notified as well, and it in turn contacted Cline asking for a response to the allegations.

Library organizations were vocal in their support for LIU’s librarians as well. “We urge the LIU-Brooklyn administration to reconsider this assault on both the union and on the open and collegial traditions of higher education,” said American Library Association president Julie Todaro in a statement. “With student learning in mind, it is incumbent on both the administration and the union to pursue good-faith negotiations, without fear of reprisal.”

Inside the LIU library, support staff filled the roles of faculty librarians, and library administration, which is not unionized, remained in place. Students were reportedly concerned about access to library services, however, bringing their reference questions to the protesting library faculty outside. “We got some questions out on the picket line, some students asking ‘how do I log in to this database?’ or ‘how do I access so-and-so journal?’” reported Tewell. “Even though we were locked out from campus, they still got their reference support from the librarians.”

Instructional sessions that would have been taught by library faculty were cancelled during the lockout. Non-union staff members were asked to teach—often outside their subject areas—and fill in for unionized library colleagues at the same time.

Because faculty were shut out of their email accounts, much communication during the lockout was done through social media. The hashtag #LIUlockout was used by students and faculty, both as a means of correspondence and a call to action.

The union and management sat down again on September 12, and again on the 14th. This time, after a marathon six-hour bargaining session, an agreement was reached: The contract would be extended through the end of the 2016–17 academic year, and in the meantime both sides would work with a mediator. LIU administration ended the lockout, and faculty members went back to work the following day.

CONTINUING TO PUSH

Ultimately, in Drabinski’s opinion, the university bowed to the combination of “higher level institutional pressures, as well as the response from students who were very angry and very much in solidarity with the faculty, and the faculty organizing. You never know what makes power move…. But I think attacking them from a bunch of different directions in an organized way is what launched this small victory.”

“When [Cline] locked us out,” said Drabinski, “it produced a unified militant class of highly organized workers, and the librarians [were] at the forefront of that.” What many interpreted as LIU management’s “divide and conquer” strategy instead became a point of unification between the dozen library faculty and nearly 400 other full- and part-time professors. “I think in a normal ratification vote…the librarians would have been hung out to dry, but now none of us want a contract unless it assures equality for all of us,” Drabinski told LJ.

Support staff who kept the library open were not met with resentment by returning faculty, reported Tewell. “That may be the case in other places, but not within the library—I haven’t gotten that sense,” he told LJ. “We understand that the staff were being put in a difficult position by administration, and it’s not their fault that they were compelled to do these jobs. We…can put those personal feelings aside and just focus our energy on the important [issues].”

Faculty are working to catch up after missing a week of classes. And negotiations for a better contract are about to resume. “This win got us back in our offices and it got us back at the negotiating table,” said Drabinski. “Now is the hard work of organizing the membership to stay active and vigilant and ready and prepared…. We want to still be organized when it comes to the end of May.”

The lockout was a wakeup call to many. “It was a really surprising experience,” noted Tewell. “Considering the librarians here, along with the other faculty, are among the most protected category of workers—we’re unionized, we have tenure—for something like this to happen…put things into perspective. No worker is indisposable.”

The lockout did bring people together, however. “The one good thing that’s come out of this is a sense of unity between faculty and students,” said Drabinski. “I think that’s always there, but it’s nice to have it clarified and crystallized.”

On the protest lines, Tewell said, “I actually met a lot of faculty I had not spoken with yet, [and] faculty who were completely new to LIU…. It was a good way to develop relationships with other people on campus.” It was, he added, “not a great experience, but an important one.”

As to the contract issues specific to librarians, Drabinski felt that the support from the majority of the union would continue. “We understand that we are a smaller part of the unit. There are 12 of us in a 400-person body. But we are a really big, loud, organized force within the union and we’re going to continue to push.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Eamon Tewell says:

    Thanks for this piece on the LIU lockout. It is 100% a library issue! I’d like to make a clarification: the proposed contract included an added workload for librarians of 15 days per year, instead of 15 hours.

  2. Interesting that this is happening yet again at LIU. I got my MLS there back in 2004, and had similar problems due to a faculty strike in my last semester. One must ask why this particular university has such acrimonious relations with their faculty unions and is so unwilling to negotiate that strikes are commonplace and now the administration has resorted to a lockout. Perhaps it is time for the NY State Department of Labor to look into it? Certainly Middle States should.

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