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CUNY Profs File Lawsuit Against Law Forcing Them to Be Members of Union That Passed Anti-Israel Resolution

Since the resolution’s passage, the PSC have “held chapter level discussions” that “encourage support for the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel BDS movement among rank-and-file members of PSC.”
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January 17, 2022
The CUNY School of Law in Long Island City, Queens (Photo by Evulaj90/Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Several City University of New York (CUNY) professors filed a lawsuit on January 12 to overturn a state law forcing them to be members of a professor’s union that passed an anti-Israel resolution in June.

According to the lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by the Journal, professors Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax and Maria Pagano are being represented by the National Right to Work Foundation and The Fairness Center. All but one of them are Jewish and all have resigned from the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). The lawsuit states that the professors’ “opposition to PSC’s political and ideological positions crystalized in June 2021, when PSC adopted the Resolution regarding what it termed ‘the continued subjection of Palestinians to the state-supported displacement, occupation, and use of lethal force by Israel,’ and requiring chapter-level discussion of possible support by PSC for the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement.” The professors view the resolution as antisemitic because it “applies a double standard to the one Jewish nation in the world, Israel, while ignoring every other nation” and all but Pagano resigned in 2021 over it. Pagano had resigned in 2010 after the PSC allegedly interfered in a grievance settlement and has grown concerned about “the PSC’s increasing radicalization,” per the lawsuit.

Since the resolution’s passage, the PSC have “held chapter level discussions” that “encourage support for the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel BDS movement among rank-and-file members of PSC.” “By ensuring that the Resolution and the BDS movement’s goals would be discussed over and over again at chapter meetings across the CUNY campuses, PSC ensured that the isolation, marginalization, harassment, and ridicule experienced by the pro-Israel Zionist faculty would continue throughout the academic year,” the lawsuit alleges.

Additionally, the lawsuit states that the professors oppose the PSC’s financial support for the Working Families Party, a progressive party that “wants to align itself with the movement that spawned Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” and aims “to strengthen its alliance with groups like the Democratic Socialists of America,” according to The New York Times. The professors also don’t think that the PSC can “fairly represent them” given their differences in political ideology and allege that the PSC puts the needs of “part-time adjunct professors and other groups in the bargaining unit over their interests as full-time faculty and/or staff of CUNY.”

But the professors can’t officially disassociate themselves from the union under a New York law known as the Taylor Law as well as CUNY’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the PSC, as their wages are still being deducted to pay dues to the PSC. They also cannot seek representation from a different union. Consequently, the PSC, CUNY, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) Chair John Wirenius and PERB members are all listed as defendants in the lawsuit. PERB certified the PSC as the official union for the professors, per the lawsuit.

The lawsuit argues that forcing the professors to be represented only by the PSC is a violation of their First Amendment rights, meaning that the Taylor Law is unconstitutional.

“PSC represents these employees regardless of whether the employees are union members and regardless of whether these employees agree with PSC’s speech and its positions,” the lawsuit stated. “No Plaintiff has ever participated in a vote to certify or recognize PSC as his or her exclusive representative.”

National Right to Work Foundation President Marx Mix said in a statement, “By forcing these professors into a union collective against their will, the state of New York mandates that they associate with union officials and other union members who take positions that are deeply offensive to these professors’ most fundamental beliefs. Going as far back as the 1944 Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Railway Co decision, the Supreme Court has recognized that union bosses misuse their government-granted monopoly bargaining powers to take offensive positions that are directly contrary to the interests of many employees who are forced under a union’s so-called ‘representation’ against their will.”

He added: “New York State’s Taylor Law authorizes such unconscionable compulsion. It is time federal courts fully protect the rights of government employees to freely exercise their freedom to dissociate from an unwanted union, whether their objections are religious, cultural, financial, or otherwise.”

Students and Faculty for Equality (SAFE) CUNY, a nonpartisan group advocating for Zionist Jews to be treated equally at CUNY, said in a statement to the Journal, “S.A.F.E. CUNY stands in solidarity with the professors who courageously came forward and brought this action. The PSC-CUNY faculty union has already been found liable by the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] for discriminating against its very own Zionist Jewish and observant faculty members. That is reprehensible and these faculty members should not be forced to have these discriminators represent them in collective bargaining, where their interests––even strong legally protected ones––are not represented.” The EEOC complaint was filed by Lax in 2019, who alleged that the Progressive Faculty Caucus prevents observant and Zionist Jews like himself from being a part of the caucus. The EEOC determination from February 2021 stated that Lax and others were “discriminated and retaliated against because of their religion,” though Fran Clark, a spokesperson for the PSC, told the Journal in June that Lax’s characterization of the EEOC determination was ‘inaccurate.’”

Clark told the Journal that the professors’ lawsuit is “meritless” and “another attempt to erode the power of organized labor to fight for better pay and working conditions and a more just society.” “PSC members—and non-member free-riders such as the plaintiffs—have good health insurance, benefits, due-process rights, contractual raises and salary steps because of the union’s contract negotiations,” he said. “The ‘Right to Work’ agenda is rooted in white supremacy; it will find little purchase at CUNY, the nation’s largest, most diverse urban university system. Antisemitism is on the rise and must be confronted. The deeply held convictions and differences of opinion that some PSC members have about Israel and Palestine should not be distorted in service of an anti-union agenda.” Clark also called the National Right to Work Foundation “notoriously right-wing.”

When asked to respond to Clark’s statement, Mix said in a statement to the Journal: “It is no surprise that PSC union officials have immediately resorted to ad hominem attacks and baseless name-calling as opposed to defending their coercive monopoly ‘representation’ powers, which have historically been used to discriminate against or otherwise harm rank-and-file workers. Such baseless accusations are page 1 of Big Labor’s playbook when their coercive forced unionism power is exposed by the very workers they claim to represent. No American worker should be forced under the representation of a union they oppose, and it’s high time that federal courts protect this basic aspect of workers’ freedom of association.”

A spokesperson for CUNY referred the Journal to Chancellor Matos Rodriguez’s July statement saying that the organizations like the PSC “speak for themselves” and “do not necessarily represent the views of the City University of New York.” A spokesperson from DiNapoli’s office declined to comment to the Journal. PERB did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

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