Long Island faculty on strike
reports from a strike at Long Island University in New York.
NEW YORK--The Long Island University Faculty Federation (LIUFF), which represents the faculty at LIU-Brooklyn and LIU-CW Post, went on strike as the first day of classes began over management intransigence on health care and wages.
For two months, the university has refused to negotiate in good faith with the union, leading to a nearly unanimous vote to strike. Currently, the administration's five-year contract offer includes four years of 0 percent raises, increased health care contributions from workers and the possibility of a small raise in the fifth year if enrollment increases.
A favorite target of strikers' (and students') anger is the bloated bureaucracy of LIU. A striking faculty member said, "We are in an administrative heavy institution, many of whom take home high salaries. There's a great deal of nepotism, which insulates the higher levels of administration from both faculty and students and makes them function in this detached way from the people they're supposed to be serving."
In the flyers they're handing out to students and passersby, the union points out that of the university's $452 million budget, 91 percent ($410 million) comes from tuition, with only 0.9 percent ($4.3 million) coming from fundraising efforts. Long Island University then spends 55.5 cents out of every tuition dollar on administrative salaries, and only 13 cents going to full-time faculty salaries and 22 cents to scholarships.
The administration spends just 2 cents of every tuition dollar on academic budgets and 1.5 cents on athletics. And yet, like many private colleges and universities, tuition goes up every year--only to be spent on administrative salaries.
"There is a feeling of disrespect for the faculty when we've been offered such a bad contract--it's insulting. I think they're aware of unions being demonized, and they're trying to take advantage of the economic crisis to force concessions," said striker Susan Zizner, a faculty member at the university since 1994 and a veteran of a 2003 strike over a tiered wage system.
The LIUFF has already conceded to management's demand for no raises in the first year of the contract, but felt pushed to the wall by the administration's intransigence and outrageous demands.
"Over the last years, we've worked with the administration to consolidate our health plans [the university used to use three health plans, now they use one], which saved the university hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they're still asking us to increase payments toward our health care," said Education Chair Kathleen Kesson.
THE MAIN issue for striking workers is the administration's scheme to tie future pay raises to increases in tuition. The administration's plan would provide annual lump-sum payments to faculty instead of pay raises, but this money would not be considered part of a member's base pay--which means that it won't be considered in their retirement benefits either.
As Dennis Broe, who is a professor of Media Arts, a union executive committee member and a 19-year veteran of the university, said:
This is a corporate board of trustees, and they're trying to apply the business model to education. They want to turn teachers into capitalist entrepreneurs. Instead of raises, they want to make our pay contingent on incentives, and that incentive is tuition increases, instead of the university raising it's own money. We very much see ourselves in solidarity with students, because in the wider context this is about how effectively the university is run.
The striking workers have received strong shows of solidarity from students, who are wearing "SHOUT" (Students Helping Out Underpaid Teachers) buttons and have participated in some small teach-ins and sit-ins in support of their professors. "I think [student support] is important because if they're not happy, we're not happy," said Leah, a graduate student walking the picket line. "They're going to raise tuition, and it's already too high."
Members of the Communications Workers of America, who recently returned to work from their strike at Verizon without a contract, have said they'll be visiting the LIUFF picket line in solidarity. And at the nearby Brooklyn Hospital Center, 500 nurses represented by the New York State Nurses Association, plan to begin walking picket lines on September 19 over similar issues of health care and wages.
Remarking on this hotbed of labor radicalism in a three-block radius of LIU's downtown campus, Professor Broe said, "It's time for the working class to stand up."