The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, March/April 2022 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.
CUNY professors’ lawsuit argues NY law forces them under power of anti-Semitic union
Prof. Avraham Goldstein recalled in a Wall Street Journal piece the anti-Semitism his family faced in the Soviet Union. He and other plaintiffs argue they shouldn’t be forced to associate with a union that subjects them to similar hostility.
NEW YORK, NY – For decades, government sector union bosses have relied on two pillars of coercion — forced dues and forced representation — to maintain their grip on power over America’s public servants and the public services citizens rely on.
While the Supreme Court in the 2018 National Right to Work Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case recognized that forcing government employees to pay dues to stay employed violates the First Amendment, a new Foundation-assisted civil rights lawsuit from six City University of New York (CUNY) system professors may finally defeat union bosses’ privilege to impose union representation over the objections of public workers.
CUNY professors Jeffrey Lax, Michael Goldstein, Avraham Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, and Maria Pagano sued the AFL-CIO-affiliated Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union, CUNY executives, and New York State officials in January, challenging New York State’s “Taylor Law” that gives unions monopoly bargaining privileges in public sector workplaces like CUNY.
The plaintiffs, most of whom are Jewish, oppose the union’s “representation” on the grounds that union officials and adherents have relentlessly denigrated their religious and cultural identity. Several of the plaintiffs exercised their Janus right to cut off dues after PSC officials rammed through a resolution in June 2021 that they found “anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, and anti-Israel,” according to the lawsuit.
Discrimination Cited in Groundbreaking First Amendment Case
The lawsuit, which was filed with legal aid from both the National Right to Work Foundation and Pennsylvania-based Fairness Center, says: “Despite 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.”
The resolution is not nearly the worst example of PSC officials’ anti-Semitism, according to the lawsuit. Prof. Michael Goldstein asserts that adherents of PSC are waging a campaign to get him fired and have targeted him with harassment and threats such that he must have an armed guard accompany him on campus. Prof. Lax cites in the lawsuit a determination he has already received from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that “PSC leaders discriminated against him, retaliated against him, and subjected him to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion.”
While all of the professors take issue with PSC bosses’ radicalism, they also want to break free from internal conflicts within the large and disparate unit, which consists of full-time, part-time, and adjunct teaching employees and others. Prof. Kass-Shraibman states in the lawsuit that “instead of prioritizing the pay of full-time faculty, PSC expended resources advocating on behalf of teachers in Peru, graduate students at various other universities and the so-called ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement.”
On top of all that, Profs. Avraham Goldstein, Kass-Shraibman, and Langbert contend that PSC officials aren’t even respecting their First Amendment Janus rights. Although all three professors clearly indicated they wanted to cut off financial support to the union, the lawsuit explains that “Defendants PSC and the City . . . have taken and continue to take and/or have accepted and continue to accept union dues from [their] wages as a condition of employment . . .” in violation of Janus.
“I had paid thousands of dollars in union dues for workplace representation, not for political statements or attacks on my beliefs and identity,” Prof. Avraham Goldstein wrote in a piece for The Wall Street Journal. “I decided to resign my union membership and naively thought I could leave the union and its politics behind for good.”
“I was wrong,” recounted Prof. Goldstein. “Union officials refused my resignation and continued taking union dues out of my paycheck.”
Suit Seeks Damages and to Overturn NY Law Authorizing Union Control
The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the Taylor Law’s imposition of monopoly union control is unconstitutional, and that the defendants cease “certifying or recognizing PSC, or any other union, as Plaintiffs’ exclusive representative without their consent.” The lawsuit also demands the union and university return dues seized in violation of Janus to Profs. Avraham Goldstein, Kass-Shraibman, and Langbert.
“By forcing these professors into a monopoly 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. “New York State’s Taylor Law authorizes such unconscionable compulsion. It is time federal courts fully protect the rights of government employees to exercise their freedom to disassociate from an unwanted union, whether their objections are religious, cultural, financial, or otherwise.”