Effective 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, September 14, the administration of the LIU-Brooklyn campus ended its lockout of unionized faculty members. Faculty and administration agreed to extend the recently expired labor agreement through May 31, 2017, and to appoint a professional mediator to facilitate a fair contract.
Some labor-management conflicts have long-lasting implications, both negative and positive, for the labor movement and American workers. The night before New Years Eve 1937, automobile workers at the Flint, Michigan General Motors plant sat down at their machines shutting down the assembly line and refused to leave the plant. The Flint sit-down strike lasted 44-days, led to unionization of the automobile industry, and the astronomical growth in the union movement. A major reason for the high post-World War 2 standard of living for American workers was this defiant action. Union membership reached its peak in the early 1950s when more than a third of American workers were union members.
The sharp decline in union membership and the weakening of working-class political and economic power can also be traced to one strike, this time a failed strike, by unionized air traffic controllers in 1981. The strike, called by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO, was against the law. Instead of pushing for negotiations with the union, President Reagan fired all 13,000 striking workers. The defeat of PATCO escalated a downward spiral in union membership which declined from 20% of the workforce in 1983 to about 11% today.
At the start of the 2016-2017 academic year the administration at Long Island University's Brooklyn, New York campus barred its 400 faculty members who are part of the faculty union from campus. They also cut off salaries and health benefits. This appears to be the first "lockout' at a college campus in United States history. "Replacements" and university administrators, including many sympathetic to faculty, were assigned to teach pretend classes.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the lockout "strong-arm tactics" and described it as "an injustice to the workers, and it's an injustice to the students who are not receiving that education."
The lockout was triggered by the expiration of the faculty's contract on August 31. The faculty union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, agreed to extend the existing contract for five weeks so negotiations could continue and the school term could begin smoothly. University officials refused and initiated the lockout. It appears they were planning this action all summer and were lining up "scabs" to cover classrooms.
In response to the lock-out, real LIU faculty, joined by students, set up picket lines, organized protest rallies, and voted 226 to 10 to turn down a take-it-or leave-it contract offer from LIU and no-confidence in the university president.
The fight against the lockout of faculty at the Long Island University Brooklyn campus has the potential to be another historic turning point for the American labor movement. The victory by unionized faculty may signal a rebirth of labor power and the movement for worker rights. A defeat would have empowered other employers to pursue similar tactics and might be the death knell for organized labor in the United States. This is why the victory by LIU faculty is a win for students and working people.
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