Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chronicle of Higher Ed on Seidemann Case

I sent out a small press release concerning David Seidemann's victory in district court against the leadership of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Reporter David Glenn of the Chronicle of Higher Education called to thank me for the information and the story ran today (paid access). The article is accurate and even handed. David Glenn's reporting is excellent.

In addition to sending out the press release I had invited Barbara Bowen, Nancy Romer, Steve London, Stanley Aronowitz and several other members of PSC's administration office to comment on my last blog on the recent ruling, but none has responded.

The article points out that Dorothee Benz, a union employee, claims that

"the 'vast majority' of the disputed spending has been allocated to lobbying campaigns to encourage state and local governments to provide financial support to the university, not on political causes that have nothing to do with professors' wages or benefits."

However, this is misleading for two reasons. First, there have been considerable "soft money" activities by the union leadership involving Iraqi War protests, demonstrations and conferences. The leadership is paid salaries to participate in these activities. To be fair, agency dues payments should be reduced by the proportion that salaries for the union leadership's time spent on such political activites bears to the union's total budget. Second, lobbying typically involves political as well as wage and benefit concerns, as Professor Seidemann points out in the article.

An additional concern is that the union has used CUNY facilities to send e-mails and used CUNY facilities to conduct meetings of a political nature. Since CUNY is a section 501(c)(3) organization, the repeated use of CUNY facilities to further the Professional Staff Congress's political goals is inappropriate and likely a breach of the tax code's requirements for charitable and educational institutions (that is, that they not be used for political purposes).

The article quotes Christopher M. Callagy, a union attorney, as saying that the union's chief political efforts are in Albany. This is a lie. The union leadership has repeatedly notified faculty of Iraqi War protests, and used their time and union resources for such protests.

Moreover, the article points out that even Albany lobbying is not considered a collective bargaining expense:

"Mr. Seidemann pointed out in an interview on Wednesday. 'Lobbying for an increased budget for education—that is a political act,' Mr. Seidemann said. ['']There may be people who think education should be supported by property taxes or should be supported totally by tuition.' Mr. Seidemann said that...he distrusts the union's management and wants to give it as little financial support as possible. "

The article adds that Professor Seidemann is continuing with a further complaint. He is asking the judge to require that the union file its financial data online on a specific date. No more Enron-style financials for the Professional Staff Congress.

Professor Seidemann has performed an important social service, and he deserves an award. However, I would argue that his case does not go far enough. The case of Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association on which Judge Lois Bloom relies in the Seidemann case assumes that agency payers may be free riders because they receive union benefits but do not contribute to the costs of negotiation. But the PSC has won no benefits for its membership. Rather, because of the PSC's incompetent negotiation stance, silly demonstrations, and adverserial approach, the union has managed to diminish faculty wages and benefits. An equitable rendering of the Lehnert decision ought to be that where unions reduce wages, agency payers should be reimbursed for their losses because of the union's incompetence. Perhaps the next step ought to be to try this case under equity principles.

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