The timing was ‘amazing’ irony
Days before the Supreme Court ruled that government employees can’t be forced to pay “agency fees” to public-sector unions, arguably subsidizing their political activities, a 25,000-member public university union took up a political resolution.
The delegate assembly of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York debated whether to “Condemn the Israeli Massacre of Palestinian Protesters in Gaza,” according to Prof. KC Johnson, an unwilling financial contributor to the union.
Though The College Fix couldn’t determine whether the assembly actually voted on the resolution, Prof. David Seidemann The Fix he wasn’t surprised that it was introduced, since the union has “long since been anti-Israel.”
The PSC was expecting bad news from the Supreme Court, urging both members and non-members in recent months to sign a new membership card (below) and continue to pay union dues without compulsion.
The Janus case was “designed to destroy union power,” but if everyone becomes PSC members, all will “benefit from the raises, benefits, job protections and better working conditions achieved by our union,” it said. The pitch did not mention the union’s political activities.
Trump uses Israel as ‘garrison state’
The resolution at the June 21 delegate assembly states that the PSC is “bound to defend our working class brothers and sisters in Gaza” who live in “constant danger” due to the “Israeli blockade.”
It says Israel has “moved further toward an apartheid regime … emboldened by the Trump Administration,” which uses Israel “as a garrison state to guard its own imperialist interests” and has “provocatively” moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
The Trump administration is the connection between the otherwise unrelated issues of Israel-Palestine and the union’s activities, according to the resolution. Because the union has protested the “anti-union and anti-public-education attacks” by this administration, “we feel solidarity” with the Gazans who are suffering at the hands of the U.S.
Israeli and Palestinian workers are “exploited in a capitalist society,” and only a “united workers movement that overcomes racism and nationalism” can solve the Israel-Palestine conflict:
PSC-CUNY has learned as a U.S. union that racism is a key capitalist ideology used to divide workers, to super-exploit the racially-targeted ones among us more than others, and to undermine workers’ solidarity in struggle …
The resolution was submitted by the PSC’s International Committee. It says most of the Executive Committee recommended “non-concurrence” at an earlier vote in June.
Prof. Johnson told The Fix in an email that he heard there was not a “quorum” by the end of the meeting, “so not clear if they voted on it.” He called the timing of the resolution, days before the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, an example of “amazing” irony.
Neither the PSC nor CUNY media relations responded to multiple email inquiries seeking confirmation on whether the resolution (below) came up for a vote. The person who answered a phone call from The Fix in the media relations office provided an email for an administrative assistant, but that person has yet to respond.
The day of the Janus ruling, the PSC released a statement that the Supreme Court had not protected “free speech” but rather a consolidation of “wealth, power, and even health in the hands of a few” to further the plans of “billionaires and far-right organizations.”
Yet the union organized for two years “in preparation for the decision” and has its most members ever, the PSC wrote:
[Mark Janus and his backers] failed to foresee that their attack on workers’ ability to organize would inspire unions to become stronger. Unions arose without the support of the law and will survive the Janus decision. … We will be out in the streets tonight doing what unions do best: taking collective action. And we have redoubled our commitment to resisting austerity for our public university and organizing for the contract we deserve.
Union classified ‘street rallies’ under ‘office supplies’
Johnson and Seidemann, who both teach at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, have a fraught history with the union.
The PSC donated to a “defense fund” in 2002 for Sami Al-Arian, “who later pleaded guilty to contributing services to the Palestine Islamic Jihad,” Seidemann claimed in an email to The Fix.
Referring to Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent in Janus that said “everyone knows the difference between politicking and collective bargaining,” Janus said Kagan missed the point:
[W]hen the PSC classified street rallies under the category office supplies, they were deliberately trying to hide political activity under a laughably misleading category. … So in reality, the free riders were the unions, which took advantage of their ability to hide expenditures under the old case law [1977’s Abood ruling] to dupe unwitting fee payers into using their money for union politics.
Seidemann was previously investigated for a “prelude to sexual harassment,” in part, because of the presence of “triangles” on his class syllabus.
Johnson tweeted his support of the Janus ruling, owing to his experience of hiring a lawyer in his tenure case because of “the union’s rather … ambivalent … attitude [sic].”
He said one passage from the majority “strikes home” – that a union can “effectively subordinate” an individual employee’s interests to “the collective interests of all employees” when the union controls the grievance process.
As someone who had to hire a lawyer in my tenure case bc of the union’s rather…ambivalent…attitude, this passage from Janus strikes home: pic.twitter.com/fPwmJrXcug
— KC Johnson (@kcjohnson9) June 27, 2018
‘Extraneous ideological crusades’ over ‘economic well-being’ of faculty
In an email to The Fix, Johnson described his tepid history with the PSC and the fees he has been forced to pay under New York law to sustain the union since his hiring in 1999.
An activist group “seized control of the union” in 2000 and its leaders “remain in command,” including the “de facto president-for-life” Barbara Bowen, in Johnson’s words. In his tenure case, Johnson had alleged “procedural misconduct” against other professors who belonged to the union, “two of them close allies of the Bowen group,” he said. Bowen did not respond to an email from The Fix.
“It quickly became clear to me that I could not count on vigorous representation from the union, and so I hired a private lawyer to represent me instead,” Johnson said. “I’m very fortunate I did so”:
Since the Bowen group assumed command, I have been concerned that the PSC too often focuses on extraneous ideological crusades rather than the economic well-being of the full-time faculty.
In an essay for City Journal, Johnson expanded his thoughts on the Janus ruling in the context of higher education.
He refers to a 2017 controversy in which the PSC urged CUNY professors to “‘teach resistance’ and publicly affirm that they would ‘integrate’ into class instruction how President Trump’s policies affect [their] area of scholarship and ask [their] students how they are affected.’”
The PSC should instead use the Supreme Court ruling to “focus their efforts more on achieving tangible financial benefits for professors and less on extraneous ideological crusades,” Johnson wrote.
The Brooklyn chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, which has worked with CUNY in the past, told The Fix it was aware of the PSC resolution but directed The Fix’s request to the main ZOA office, which has not responded. The university’s Jewish Law Student Association (JLSA) did not respond to requests for comment.
IMAGES: PSC CUNY/Twitter