By Alyssa Seidman
Approximately 181 employees who are members of the Office of Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 across all Long Island University campuses have been working without a union contract since their agreement with the university expired on March 1, 2012. Negotiations are ongoing between the union and the university for a new agreement, according to the union’s chief negotiator, Nick Galipeau.
“It’s not unusual for a contract to expire,” said Galipeau. However, “it is incredibly unusual to be out of contract for the amount of time that we have been, and it’s very disheartening as well.” Galipeau continued, “Under the National Labor Relations Act, the terms and conditions of the old contract remain unless they’re renegotiated.” Galipeau explained that because of this, secretaries haven’t received a wage increase in almost three years. He added that the bargaining unit also represents audio-visual technicians, mailroom employees, and clerks on campus.
“The university has made repeated efforts to arrive at a mutually workable solution, one that acknowledges our Local 153 employees for their hard work in a fiscally responsible way,” read a joint statement from Gale Haynes, President and Chief Operating Officer of the University Counsel, and Jackie Nealon, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Life. “Americans face challenges in keeping up with the cost of living these days. It is our job to address those very real needs in a way that doesn’t negatively affect our ability to fund the many other areas of university life. This is critical to providing a quality education to our students at an affordable tuition rate.”
Since negotiations for a new contract have not yet been finalized, OPEIU members have been forced to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums with their own health fund monies, according to an article published in LIU Brooklyn’s paper about the negotiations.
“I can’t imagine having to pay a large percentage of my salary towards a premium share,” said Anna Gallo, a secretary for the Political Science and History departments, and shop steward for Local 153. “[The university] wants us to contribute to our medical, and we’re not opposed to that. [But] they want premium shares to be exact for everyone, whether you’re a secretary or a faculty member, and we do not make what faculty members make.” She continued, “It’s too disproportionate to have an 18 percent premium share across the board. And I understand [the university] wants uniformity, but you can’t have uniformity when the salaries [are] not uniform.”
Haynes and Nealon, in their statement, said the union demanded, “Their members contribute less in healthcare than similarly situated university employees.” They continued, “Our offer gradually brings the union members in line with every other university employee, ‘stepping up’ their contribution over 4 years.”
However, Gallo, on behalf of the union, explained that if the university expects the union members to pay the premium share, they want it in conjunction with a raise that could offset the cost of the contribution. “Right now there is no offer on the table that seems fair to [the union]. It’s too much of a pay cut where people are going to really have to look to subsidize their income to survive,” she added.
Galipeau mentioned that because the secretaries are working without a contract as of now, both they and the university could exercise certain actions that would be barred if a renewed agreement were in place. “In all contracts, you’re going to have what are called ‘no strike, no lockout’ clauses. So, if we did have a contract effective currently, our members would be bound not to strike, and the university would be bound to not lock us out. Since we are working without a contract, either side could choose to take those respective actions.” Although Gallo did not wish to comment on the potentiality of a union strike, The Pioneer is unaware of any plans by either the union or the university to take such actions.
Although the secretaries union has never gone on strike at Post– OPEIU members went on strike at Adelphi in December 2000 – other unions at the university have. The union representing the full time faculty members went on strike in both 2003 and 2011, protesting what they called bad faith bargaining procedures during contract negotiations.
The faculty strike in 2003 dealt with salary increases for faculty members on both LIU campuses. According to the article “L.I.U. Faculty Vote to Strike At C.W. Post And Brooklyn” published in The New York Times on Sept. 3, 2003, union leaders on both campuses “[were] unhappy about the university’s proposed salary increases, its efforts to increase the teaching load for professors conducting research, and to have new faculty members pay half of the cost of health care coverage for their families. Union officials said the university also declined to consider their proposals for higher pay and better health benefits for longtime adjuncts.” The 2003 strike was amicably resolved after three weeks.
In 2011, the full time faculty went on strike again. According to “Full Time C.W. Post Faculty Goes on Strike” published in The Pioneer on Sept. 14, 2011, members of the C.W. Post Collegial Federation (CWPCF), then comprised of approximately 300 full-time faculty, “went on strike in response to a said ‘walk out’ on contract negotiations by the university’s administration. The disagreement between the two parties involve[d] a wage proposal” that did not meet the satisfaction of the union members. In response to the walk out, CWPCF faculty picketed the Post campus with signs “detail[ing] information regarding their cause and affiliations with labor unions. Other signage contained messages directed at the administration.”
The 2011 strike was amicably resolved a few months after the old contract expired, resulting in a ratification of a new five-year contract for full-time faculty. According to the school’s website update on the matter, “The ratification mark[ed] the end of the faculty strike.”
As a result of the ongoing bargaining between the university and Local 153, Galipeau and other members of the union have mobilized in an attempt to put pressure on the university to negotiate a fair agreement. One such example occurred on Oct. 18, 2014, during Homecoming Weekend, when union members distributed t-shirts stating, “Please ask Pres. Cline why LIU hates its own workers.”
Galipeau confirmed that the bargaining unit was responsible for the t-shirts, and added, “When negotiating doesn’t work, the people need to put pressure on the employer. And the only thing that we’ve seen that’s allowed us to gain any ground is when we’ve put pressure on them.”
The following is a memorandum that was issued to the University Community following the publication of the article “Secretaries without Union Contracts.”
In the original article, it was stated that “Approximately 225 Post employees who are members of the Office of Professional Employees International Union Local 153 have been working without a union contract since their agreement with the university expired on March 1, 2012.” The correct number is 181 union members across both LIU campuses.