Employers should not be able to abruptly hang workers’ income and healthcare over their heads as a way to force them into worse working conditions.
Unfortunately, this was exactly the case during Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus lockout last month, in what has become a stark example of how racist corporate interests in education threaten educators and students’ economic survival.
“What the administration is doing, and has done from the first day of the current president’s administration, is gutting the university, and creating the archetype of the corporatization of the university,” Arthur Kimmel told the Atlantic last month. Kimmel is an adjunct professor who, along with 400 unionized faculty at the Brooklyn campus, lost his salary, healthcare, access to campus email and permission to enter campus facilities for 12 days starting on August 31, a week before the school year was set to start. (The Atlantic, “An Unprecedented Faculty Lockout,” 09.07.2016, The Nation, “Classes Start at LIU Brooklyn on September 7—But Faculty Are Locked Out,” 09.04.2016).
In a lockout, employers force workers out of their jobs and often hire temporary replacements in order to gain contract leverage. The dispute between the LIU professors’ union and the school administration centered on the faculty’s demand for pay equal to that of their colleagues at LIU Post, LIU’s second, whiter campus located on a Long Island estate. Eight out of ten students at LIU Brooklyn identify as non-white. Many have working-class or immigrant backgrounds, and work full-time.
In contrast, LIU Post is home to a majority white and relatively higher-income student body (The Nation, “Classes Start at LIU Brooklyn on September 7—But Faculty Are Locked Out,” 09.04.2016). While students at both campuses pay the same tuition, the starting salary at LIU Brooklyn is 16,000 dollars less than at LIU Post (DNA Info, “Professors Locked Out of LIU Brooklyn Amid Contract Fight for More Pay,” 09.06.2016). Given that students pay equally, there is no reason that professor salaries should differ. The administration is relying on racism to save them money on faculty salaries.
Unfortunately, in the past few decades, the National Labor Relations Board has loosened many restrictions on lockouts, making them an increasingly common tactic in labor disputes (The Century Foundation, “Is It Time for the Courts to End Labor Lockouts?” 06.30.2016).
A lockout can be thought of as the opposite to a strike—instead of employees refusing to work, employers refuse to let them work, in both cases to push contract demands. But a lockout is vastly more threatening to workers than a strike is to employers.
Employees often do not have the same financial assets to fall back on as those at the top of companies or administrations, and companies often impose lockouts at times difficult for workers to find new jobs. Between 2010 and 2014, the average lockout lasted 147 days, while the average strike lasted only 35 (The Century Foundation, “Is It Time for the Courts to End Labor Lockouts?” 06.30.2016).
The university administration justified their extreme move as a preemptive measure against the “historical likelihood of a strike” by the faculty union (The Nation, “Classes Start at LIU Brooklyn on September 7—But Faculty Are Locked Out,” 09.04.2016).
Their treatment of faculty falls in line with their dealings with other workers. Four other unions at the college—those of secretaries and clerks, carpenters, engineers and maintenance workers, and janitorial staff—have already been working without contracts since 2012 (The Nation, “Classes Start at LIU Brooklyn on September 7—But Faculty Are Locked Out,” 09.04.2016).
Another point of dispute in the contract negotiations was the administration’s wish to lower adjunct professors’ salaries as part of their “commitment to affordability” (The Atlantic, “An Unprecedented Faculty Lockout,” 09.07.2016). However, this excuse rang hollow after the many walkouts students performed in support of their professors during the lockout.
“I selected certain professors because they’re very passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects,” one student criticized. “I expect to be taught by the guy I signed up for and not some guy who just popped up two weeks ago” (The Nation, “Classes Start at LIU Brooklyn on September 7—But Faculty Are Locked Out,” 09.04.2016).
“So, I was supposed to have a sociology class this morning. Nobody showed up,” Virginia Rodriguez, another student, complained. “Every time I go into a class, they greet you for five to ten minutes, and they leave. I have no syllabus. They posted a fake syllabus on our Blackboard (similar to Moodle) system that’s from last summer. So, I mean, this is just really disappointing, because I pay a lot of money to come to this school. I have two children to support. I cannot afford to take off a whole other semester and keep continuing to put my life on hold” (Democracy Now!, “’Everything Was Cut Immediately:’ LIU Faculty and Students Protest Lockout and Class Cancellations,” 09.13.2016)
That the administration so crassly threatened and continues to threaten the education and livelihood of its faculty, staff and students shows how corporate interests in education prioritize profit over all human concerns, such as people’s need for a secure job and living wage.
“This is terrifying,” Associate Professor and Coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn Emily Drabinski wrote at the time of the lockout. “We talk a lot about privilege in my circles, and the way that privilege insulates people like me from encounters with raw, brutal power, how terrifying and total it is, how people in power can make the difference between living and dying in instants … It’s a different thing to know in your body what that means. I am learning a lot this weekend” (Inside Higher Ed, “Labor Day Lockout,” 09.06.2016).