12/09/2010

NLRB Intervenes on Behalf of Longy Faculty Union

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In a rare move, Region One of the National Labor Relations Board has filed an injunction with the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts against the Longy School of Music, a private nonprofit conservatory in Cambridge, Mass.

The board took action after the Longy Faculty Union (LFU), and AFT Massachusetts filed charges with the NLRB alleging that the school administration committed multiple unfair labor practices against the faculty and their union. The LFU received its certification as the collective bargaining agent for all faculty at Longy in February 2010 and has been attempting to negotiate a first contract. Filing an injunction in federal court is an unusual move on NRLB's part and indicates that NLRB attorneys believe the employer has committed serious violations of federal labor law.

According to the union's complaint, the Longy administration committed a series of unfair labor practices beginning in March 2010. The administration implied that it would be futile for Longy faculty to seek union representation; implied that faculty would be subject to reprisals for supporting their union; unilaterally changed working conditions by terminating faculty, reducing working hours, changing employee benefits and reclassifying employees out of the bargaining unit; and, subsequent to the election, has refused to engage in good-faith collective bargaining over these changes.

The school claims that these changes were the result of a strategic plan to reorganize before it affiliated with Bard College. The timing of these changes and the manner in which they occurred, however, suggest that they were implemented as retribution against the faculty for organizing a union. According to LFU president Clay Hoener, the administration's systematic dismantling of the school's internal governance procedures not only is having an impact on the lives of the school's faculty and the quality of education but also is endangering the school's accreditation. The NLRB is asking the court, in effect, to restore the situation at Longy to what it was prior to the introduction of these radical changes in March 2010, as well as to compel the Longy administration to collectively bargain in good faith with the LFU. It could be months, however, before the court issues an injunction.

Despite the long road ahead, the NLRB's decision to file an injunction has added momentum to LFU's mission to give Longy faculty a voice in their workplace and put into place a collective bargaining agreement. Hoener pointed to the presence of faculty, family members, students and the local labor community at the NLRB hearing as an important reinforcement for what they are doing to build their union. "We are trying to create an institution where the faculty have a voice and are treated with respect," says Hoener. "We formed this union for our students as much as for ourselves as an example to show them that they too deserve to be treated with respect both now and as they enter the profession."

The LFU's website has updates and a forum where supporters can add their comments. [Chris Goff, Sam Lieberman]

December 9, 2010