CUNY professors challenge New York State law that forces them to be represented by union hierarchy that ostracizes and discriminates against them
New York, NY (January 13, 2022) – Six City University of New York (CUNY) professors have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union and others. The suit challenges the New York State law (“Taylor Law”) that PSC union officials use to force the professors under their monopoly “representation,” even though none of the professors are union members and all wish to dissociate completely from the union due to its extreme ideology and poor representation. The professors are receiving free legal assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and The Fairness Center.
According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, plaintiffs Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax, and Maria Pagano oppose PSC “based largely on its ideological and political advocacy” and their dissatisfaction with the union’s exclusive control over their working conditions. The complaint further details that “[a] ll but one of the plaintiffs are Jewish,” and several chose to dissociate from PSC because of a June 2021 union resolution that “Plaintiffs view as anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, and anti-Israel,” as well as other actions taken “in a manner that harms the Jewish plaintiffs and singles them out for opprobrium, hatred, and harassment based on their religious, ethnic, and/or moral beliefs and identity.”
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are CUNY, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and New York Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) Chairman John Wirenius, for the state’s role in enforcing the union’s monopoly “representation.” The suit notes that “[d] espite Plaintiffs’ resignations from membership in PSC, Defendants…, acting in concert and under color of state law, force all Plaintiffs to continue to utilize PSC as their exclusive bargaining representative.”
Lawsuit: Jewish Professors and Others Compelled to Fund, Associate with Union Even After Bullying and Threats
The complaint recounts the various ways plaintiffs report being discriminated against by union and university agents. It says that Prof. Michael Goldstein “has experienced anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist attacks from members of PSC, including what he sees as bullying, harassment, destruction of property, calls for him to be fired, organization of student attacks against him, and threats against him and his family.” Goldstein now has a guard accompany him on campus, the complaint notes.
Prof. Lax, the complaint says, already received in a separate case a letter of determination from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “that CUNY and PSC leaders discriminated against him, retaliated against him, and subjected him to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion.” Prof. Lax “has felt marginalized and ostracized by PSC because the union has made it clear that Jews who support the Jewish homeland, the State of Israel, are not welcome,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit asserts that the PSC union, acting under the Taylor Law, is violating the professors’ First Amendment right of free association by compelling them “to associate with PSC, and to therefore be associated with PSC’s speech and PSC positions with which Plaintiffs vehemently disagree and believe to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.”
The lawsuit also notes that the professors are similarly being forced to associate with CUNY employees in the PSC union “bargaining unit” who “do not share their political views and who espouse views Plaintiffs believe to be anti-Semitic or anti-Israel,” another violation of their First Amendment rights. Additionally, the plaintiffs are “forced into the same bargaining unit with CUNY instructional staff, such as part-time adjuncts, whose employment interests diverge from their own.”
The complaint contends finally that PSC union bosses are violating the First Amendment as detailed in the 2018 National Right to Work Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, in which the Justices ruled it a First Amendment violation to force public employees to fund union activities as a condition of keeping their jobs, or to take union dues from public employees’ paychecks without their individual and affirmative consent.
Although Professors Avraham Goldstein, Kass-Shraibman, and Langbert each resigned their union memberships and attempted to cut off dues, the complaint explains that “Defendants PSC and the City or DiNapoli have taken and continue to take and/or have accepted and continue to accept union dues from certain Plaintiffs’ wages as a condition of employment…” in violation of Janus.
Suit Seeks Overturn of New York State Law Forcing Union Power on Professors, Damages
The lawsuit seeks to stop the defendants from “certifying or recognizing PSC, or any other union, as Plaintiffs’ exclusive representative without their consent” and “enforcing any provisions…that require Plaintiffs to provide financial support to PSC.” It also demands that the court declare “Section 204 of the Taylor Law…unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to the extent that it requires or authorizes PSC to be Plaintiffs’ exclusive representative…”
Also sought are refunds of the “dues seized from the wages of Plaintiffs A. Goldstein, Kass-Shraibman, and Langbert” in violation of their First Amendment Janus rights and compensatory damages for “Defendants’ unlawful interference with and deprivation” of the professors’ constitutional rights.
“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,” observed National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “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.”
“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,” added Mix.
This article was originally published on the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Website.
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