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Activists Push For Unionism, Protection At The College Of St. Rose In Albany

“Be Glad You Are In A Union And Stay Involved,” Is The Message Lisa Kannenberg - A History Professor At The College Of St. Rose - Is Sending To All New York State Public Employee Federation Members

Published Friday, January 8, 2016

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - “Be glad you are in a Union and stay involved,” is the message Lisa Kannenberg is sending to all New York State Public Employee Federation (PEF) Members. 

Kannenberg is a History Professor at the College of St. Rose in Albany.  Her experiences have emphasized how being a Union Member makes a big difference in all walks of work life

In the 1970s and 1980s, Kannenberg easily recognized the benefits of Organized Labor while a Factory Worker in the electrical industry, and an active member of the United Electrical Workers (UEW).

“Most of the time, I worked in a very large shop in Pittsburgh that employed about three-thousand people,” Kannenberg said. “I was ‘very active’ there as a Shop Steward and head of several Union Committees such as publicity and education.  Sometimes, I would get a call from an unorganized shop and would go there and recruit people for an organizing committee.  It was ‘really good.’  I had worked in Non-Union Shops before, and especially in factories, there is ‘no recourse.  There is ‘nothing.’  You have ‘no way’ of ‘protecting yourself from any kind of managerial decision.’  The Union ‘gives you a lot of protection.’  It is just ‘infinitely better’ to work Union than Non-Union.”

The electrical industry got wiped out, along with other industries, so Kannenberg returned to school, changed careers and became a Professor of History. 

For nearly 20 years at the College of St. Rose, Kannenberg described the working atmosphere as respectful, professional and a collaborative effort among the faculty and administration.

“We were able to practice ‘shared governance,’” she said.  “That’s a philosophy where the administration oversees the financial aspects and student recruitment, while the faculty is in charge of the curriculum and programs.  The professors have had the ‘main say’ about program development or elimination.”

A new administration took over the helm at St. Rose, and there has been a lot of managerial turnover.  The result has been crushing for some of the staff.

“Job security is pretty much ‘out the window,’” Kannenberg said. “The administration decided ‘without any input’ who is going to be laid off.  Last spring, we lost twenty-three staff people. And in December, another twenty-three faculty were fired, including tenured professors.  That is a ‘violation’ of governance procedures in our faculty manual.  The administration also is re-founding the college by ‘changing its orientation’ from a liberal arts college to a pre-professional school with an ‘emphasis’ on ‘hot topic’ careers.  It has become more like ‘job training’ than providing a ‘liberal arts education.’  We have had ‘nothing to say’ about it.  In doing this, the administration has ‘eviscerated’ the ‘shared governance tradition’ of the college.”

The administrators also have severed communication among the faculty by dismantling a listserv e-mail system.  Kannenberg said the e-mail system had provided for lively discussions among faculty and was part of the college culture.  Without it, professors cannot quickly respond or even acknowledge messages from other faculty members.

The faculty at St. Rose is not taking these changes lightly.

Those fired have filed complaints with the internal faculty review committee to establish they have followed procedure.

“Basically we’ve ‘lost control’ of our work and our jobs.  A Union is the way to ‘ensure we have some protection.’  In higher education, public institutions ‘can’ Unionize, but private schools ‘cannot.  That’s largely due to the Yeshiva College decision from the 1980s when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled with management, saying the faculty had control over its work and participated in hiring decisions, so were not considered employees and were ineligible to form a Union,” Kannenberg said.

However, there have been recent NLRB rulings that have been chipping away at the Yeshiva decision.

That, and the spirit of activism, determination and a quest for fairness, has fueled the St. Rose faculty. 

They are trying to organize with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and have organized a chapter in the American Association of University Professors.

“We are collecting cards now and planning to present them to the administration.  We have a majority at this point, but want a ‘significant’ majority.  The administration can voluntarily recognize us as a Union and allow us to organize.  If they refuse, we would have to go the NLRB route.  What we are trying to do ‘is not impossible,’ but it is not a ‘given’ under the Labor Law,” Kannenberg said. “There is ‘no alternative’ than to try to regain ‘some kind’ of ‘Voice on the Job.’”

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