Work and Unions at Stony Brook: Historical and Other Contexts
Summary by Spencer Austin
SAC Ballroom B
2-2:45 pm (45 minutes)
Moderator: Kevin Moriarity, UUP-West Campus President
Judy Wishnia (Emeritus Professor, History; UUP)
Michael Zweig (Emeritus Professor, Economics; Center for the Study of Working Class Life; UUP)
Prior panels discussed the work environment at public universities, specifically the long-standing trend toward privatization, corporatization, adjunctification, and other transformations that have placed heavy burdens on public university employees. Earlier panels also discussed organized labor’s responses to those phenomena. This panel explores the public university crisis as it specifically affects workers at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook and its largest employee union, United University Professions (UUP). The panel answers four basic questions: 1) What unions are active at SUNY Stony Brook and what is their composition? 2) When and how did those unions emerge? 3) What are the major trends for both public and private sector unions and how have they affected Stony Brook? 4) What impact will the Janus decision have for unions generally, and for UUP specifically?
To start off, UUP’s history must be placed in the context of public sector unionism in the United States, and New York State in particular. Federal law has allowed for private sector unions since the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935. That act was passed in the wake of a massive wave of strikes carried out across the country in 1934. Those strikes scared government and business leaders into introducing laws recognizing unions and regulating the relationship between unions and employees. However the Wagner Act only recognized private sector unions, and it specifically banned household and agricultural unions as a means of excluding women and African Americans from the organized labor force.
Public employee unions are governed by state law, but it took some time before states introduced legislation allowing those unions to form. In 1966, there was a massive public transit employee strike in New York City legally organized by workers demanding the right to form a union. Governor Nelson Rockefeller supported those workers and the next year helped pass the Taylor Law, which provided a legal framework for public employees to organize unions. From the elite’s perspective, those unions would give public employees an outlet so they did not resort to more radical or militant activities. Stony Brook employees started organizing a union almost immediately after the Taylor Law passed.
The main impetus for organizing what became UUP came from professional university staff that wanted greater job security. At the time, there was no tenure system from professional employees like there was for faculty. The staff also led the push because they generally came from working-class backgrounds and were much more familiar with unions and labor organizing than the faculty.
Several questions have to be answered when organizing a union: What is the bargaining unit, does that unit want a union, and if so what union does it want to join? The state decided to lump all faculty and nearly all professional staff SUNY-wide into a single bargaining unit. After some contention, that bargaining unit voted and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) won the right to represent SUNY employees. Some staff were excluded from that union but instead formed the Civil Service Employees Association. Graduate student employees were also excluded and would not win the right to officially organize their own union until the 1990s.
The state wanted unions as consolidated as possible because it made it easier to manage labor relations. However, this situation produces problems in a university context, where grievances often come from professional staff or junior faculty targeting senior faculty. In such a case both parties to the grievance are members of the same bargaining unit, complicating the resolution process. This has produced some difficulties for UUP, although it is still advantageous that the same union represents nearly all of SUNY’s professional and faculty employees.
It has always been difficult to get Stony Brook faculty involved with the union. Older faculty that came from labor backgrounds and started working at SUNY Stony Brook at the labor movement’s height are generally quite involved with UUP. Unfortunately, younger faculty are much less active. This problem has only worsened as the labor movement has disintegrated over the last few decades.
UUP has been instrumental in keeping SUNY Stony Brook a state-funded institution. However, that institution’s public character is gradually being eroded. The long history of state funding that UUP has fought so hard for is needlessly undermined when people use the name “Stony Brook University” instead of the university’s proper name. Referring to the university as the “State University of New York at Stony Brook” or “SUNY Stony Brook” is an important reminder to the public that that university is funding by the state.
UUP’s importance, and the importance of unions in general, goes beyond negotiating wages and terms of employment. They are, and have always been, involved in attempts to address broader social and political problems. In 1974, Stony Brook’s women employees (professional and staff) initiated a class-action lawsuit against the university and SUNY because they were systematically underpaid compared to their male counterparts. The union was supportive and gave $300,000 to fund the legal effort. The case dragged on for some time, but was ultimately lost because a federal judge appointed by President Reagan ruled gender-based discrimination was simply a fact of life. However, the suit changed the atmosphere at Stony Brook. The energy built up by the suit, and the outrage over the judge’s decision, pushed the university to introduce pay equity and to begin hiring women for more senior positions.
Stony Brook’s UUP chapter also played an important part in other social justice movements. Its members successfully pressured AFT to call for an end to apartheid in South Africa and for Nelson Mandela to be freed from prison. In addition, they protested against the Vietnam War and promoted faculty, staff, and student diversity.
In 1977, the Supreme Court decided in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that all workers in a bargaining unit must pay a fee to the union in compensation for its collective bargaining services. This directive applied even if a worker was not a union member. However, in 2018 the Supreme Court contended in its decision for Janus v. AFSCME that unions engage in political speech, and as such non-member workers in a bargaining unit could not be compelled to pay union fees. Yet while non-members are exempted from paying union fees, they will continue to receive most of the benefits of union membership, like health insurance. Many unions are trying to address these issues by restricting some benefits to members, but New York law prohibits that option in most cases.
The Janus decision was made to weaken unions, which are already under tremendous strain. The ruling’s immediate impact was to propel a massive spike in union membership. However, SUNY-wide only 47 percent of new hires have joined UUP since Janus was handed down. If that trend continues, the union will not survive.
Panel and Breakout Sessions
SAC Ballroom B (3-4 pm)
Summary by Sarah Bannon
Moderator(s); Chris Sellers (Center Director) and/or maybe Crystal Fleming (if she’d do this; Sociology)
Panelists (not necessarily in this order)
Caroline Kube, UUP-East Campus
Fred Walter, UUP-West Campus and Faculty Governance
Carlos Speight, CSEA
Caroline Propersi-Grossman, GSEU
Steve Ketchum, RA Union
- The repercussions of the Janus decision will be unfolding over the coming years.
- Private Union, so Janus rule does not apply to us
- Union experienced complications because graduate students are paid through a variety of different sources
- Graduate students struggle because their roles as both employees and students are not clearly defined
- Difficulties also lie in getting graduate students to become engaged with the Union, since their role and employment is temporary and many do not know about it
- Similar issue with union she is involved with on East Campus
- Doctors are dually appointmented, 40% state line and 60% practice plan, firewall between these things
- Healthcare professionals have a path to permanent appointment, but all levels are represented by the same union
- Does not see that Janus will effect membership
- Members are fearful to be involved, apathetic
- Members take the union for granted. Without people paying into unions and becoming involved, there won’t be enough funds to do their work and support members through bargaining power and benefits.
- Need to make a push to get new members on board and show them why it is important
- Very hard to maintain density, because 45% turn over rates
- Constantly organizing and signing new members
- Stony Brook Unions should work more closely together because we deal with similar issues across campus
- Greatest obstacle is not Janus, but is also an opportunity for engagement
- Opportunity to educate members
- Greatest obstacle is outside contracting
- Overview of CSEA Union, benefits, PTO, grants, and collective bargaining
- Opinions are their own, not of the union
- Issue on campus, academics/faculty don’t know, care, or believe they need a union
- Mandated by Taylor Law to be bargaining unit for employees
- Don’t represent only Tenured faculty, but also non-tenured lecturers, adjuncts, tenure track faculty
- No protection for anyone in the contract without tenure
- UUP broke off from Faculty governance (Senate deals with policy, UUP deals with individuals)
- Unsure how Janus will affect us, bigger issues than Janus
Questions and Answers
What are the points of intersection and collaboration across the unions?
- Not enough collaboration, leadership has to initiate this on their own
Three ways that collaboration can occur- Communication, Networks/Outreach, How to better democratize unions on campus?
- RA Union and GSEU working on partnership with UUP, suffering from intimidation or lack of adequate access to members across all departments
- Would be helpful to identify allies in UUP and how to reach them
- The benefits of having leadership involved with unions and their benefits
- How the unions across Stony Brook can be on the same message in communication with leadership
How to mobilize members around specific issues and to get involved?
- GSEU, RA Union Happy Hours- effective for increasing membership
- Mobilization around student fees (paying student fees that are necessary to do jobs)
- Faculty pay fees to keep labs open and feel similarly oppressed
- GSEU collects Ally support through an Ally pledge, which shows formal support for GSEU
- Administrative support is helpful in increasing membership,
- For example, Department Coordinators have been supportive in allowing GSEU to attend orientations and in encouraging their students to sign cards
Is there an issue across all the unions they could collaborate on?
- Closet lots are pay lots
- We provide cheaper parking than most campuses, there are bigger issues
- We pay for spots at the hospital but there are no spots, and there are issues with lateness.
- Family Leave, Paid Family Leave
- Increasing workload
- More full time faculty, and full time lecturers tenure track
- Convincing administration we are all necessary
- Poor infrastructure on campus, safety issues
- GSEU- Better Vision and Dental care
Is there potential to get Undergraduates involved?
- GSEU mobilized across campus when there was a push to cut programs last year, this included professors, lectures, graduate students, and undergrads. This is a strength of the space graduate students occupy.