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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 22, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Lawmaker sends letter in support of unionization to Ithaca College

New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton sent a letter April 23 urging President Tom Rochon and the Ithaca College Board of Trustees to respect the right of Ithaca College part-time faculty to organize and vote to form a union.

In the letter, which can be read in full below, Lifton, who represents District 125, which includes Ithaca, said she supports the rights of all groups to unionize.

“I wanted to weigh in with you to convey my strong support for any group of workers, including adjunct faculty at IC, to organize, join a union and bargain collectively for better wages and/or working conditions,” she said in the letter.

In a press release, Lifton, who was endorsed by the Service Employees International Union Local 200United during her last election, said forming a union is important in New York state.

“The freedom to form a union is a core principle of our state, as well as a fundamental human right,” Lifton said in the press release. “All workers should be free to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively for better wages and/or working conditions if they so wish.”

Lifton’s letter also said she is worried about the number of adjunct faculty at the college.

“I have been deeply concerned for many years about the increasing number of adjunct faculty within SUNY,” she said in the letter. “I am also aware that this is a very significant issue at many private colleges, including Ithaca College, and similarly urge that action be taken to begin to reverse this tide that I see as destructive to higher education in general.”

The letter comes a day after Linda Petrosino, interim provost and vice president for educational affairs, sent a letter to part-time faculty announcing the unionization election date and saying she wants faculty to vote not to unionize.

“We hope most of you will choose to vote no, but above all else we hope everyone will vote so that the final decision, either way, will reflect the wishes a true majority,” Petrosino said in the letter.

Part-time faculty will begin voting whether to unionize May 11. The National Labor Relations Board will announce the results of the election May 28.

Below is Lifton’s full letter.

Dear President Rochon and the Ithaca College Board of Trustees:

I write today because I am aware of the efforts by adjunct faculty at Ithaca College to organize and potentially vote to join a union, and I wanted to weigh in with you to convey my strong support for any group of workers, including adjunct faculty at IC, to organize, join a union and bargain collectively for better wages and/or working conditions. They should be able to do this freely, of course, without fear of harassment, punishment or any undue pressure brought to bear on any employee so inclined to participate in these activities.

Knowing you as I do, Tom, I’m sure you agree with these core human rights, and I am confident that you and the Ithaca College Board of Trustees will show the utmost respect for your adjunct faculty as they continue their efforts to determine if a critical mass of support is there to vote in a union.

You are, no doubt, aware that this freedom to form a union is a core principle of our state, enshrined in our State Constitution; you may not be aware that these labor rights are also very important to me personally. My father, Gerald Smith, was a Ph.D. in English who taught for thirty years at SUNY Geneseo, and also chaired the English Department. In the late 1950’s, he helped to form the United University Professors (now Professionals), and was UUP Chapter President on the SUNY Geneseo campus for many years. I learned initially from him the importance and value of these labor rights, and so I have long understood that if people who had studied and worked for many long years to receive a Ph.D. — a daunting task by any measure – felt a need to form or join a union in order to make a decent living and have good working conditions, then, surely, any and all workers need to have that unencumbered right.

My sister Kathy followed in his footsteps. She became an elementary teacher and was eventually elected to be Vice President of her teachers’ union where she negotiated many a contract for her district teachers. I became a high school English teacher and was an officer in my union as well. My younger brother Stephen graduated from Harvard Law in 1980 and became an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) where he fought for seven years for the rights of workers, including arguing cases in federal court. Very sadly, we lost him in 1994, but part of the way I keep his memory alive is by continuing to stand up firmly for the right of any worker to so organize and vote in a fair union elections.

A long way of saying that workers’ rights are long-standing, fundamental principles for me, and, again, I am confident that Ithaca College will demonstrate to the entire community, throughout this process, that you also hold dear these core human rights.

As a long-time member of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, I have been deeply concerned for many years about the increasing number of adjunct faculty within SUNY. I have fought for more state funding for SUNY to improve those ratios and have urged the Chancellor to make a priority of creating more full-time tenured faculty lines, for all the usual reasons, including a quality student experience with available faculty advisors. I am also aware that this is a very significant issue at many private colleges, including Ithaca College, and similarly urge that action be taken to begin to reverse this tide that I see as destructive to higher education in general.

Thank you for considering my views – views, I am quite certain, you share. discuss this matter further at any time.

Most sincerely,

Barbara S. Lifton Member of Assembly 125th District

Max Denning can be reached at mdenning@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @TheMaxDenning