CUNY professors sue PSC union, allege anti-Semitism

PSC+Lawsuit

Kingsborough Community College

Maya Demchak-Gottlieb, Copy Editor

A federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the Professional Staff Congress union by six CUNY professors that allege several violations of the First Amendment.

The lawsuit also named CUNY, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and New York Public Employee Relations Board Chairman John Wirenius as defendants for the state’s obligation to enforce the union’s representation.

The plaintiffs are professors Avraham Goldstein, Michael Goldstein, Frimette Kass-Shraibman, Mitchell Langbert, Jeffrey Lax and Maria Pagano.

Two of the plaintiffs are professors at Kingsborough Community College. Five of the six plaintiffs are Jewish.

The complaint said that several of the plaintiffs chose to dissociate from PSC because of a June 2021 union resolution that addressed “the continued subjection of Palestinians.” It was a call by the union for its state chapters to consider supporting the academic boycott of Israel and perceived anti-Semitic actions.

The allegations that the PSC violated the plaintiff’s First Amendment right is three pronged.

Firstly, they contend that the PSC’s actions in accordance with the Taylor Law violated the professors’ First Amendment right of free association by compelling them “to associate with PSC, and to therefore be associated with PSC’s speech and PSC positions with which Plaintiffs vehemently disagree and believe to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.”

Second, they allege that their forced association with CUNY employees in the PSC union “bargaining unit” who “do not share their political views and who espouse views Plaintiffs believe to be anti-Semitic or anti-Israel” and “whose employment interests diverge from their own” violates their First Amendment right.

Third, they allege that the PSC violated the First Amendment right as established in the Supreme Court decision Janus v. AFSCME (2018). The plaintiffs resigned their union memberships and tried to cut off dues, but the defendants took the dues anyway as a condition of employment, the report said.

PSC denied the allegations in a statement it shared with The Ticker when contacted.

“This meritless lawsuit, brought by faculty who are not members of our union and funded by the notoriously right-wing National Right to Work Legal Foundation, is just another attempt to erode the power of organized labor to fight for better pay and working conditions and a more just society,” PSC Director of Communications Francis Clark said.

“PSC members–and non-member free-riders such as the plaintiffs–have good health insurance, benefits, due-process rights, contractual raises and salary steps because of the union’s contract negotiations,” she added. “The ‘Right to Work’ agenda is rooted in white supremacy; it will find little purchase at CUNY, the nation’s largest, most diverse urban university system.”

In the statement, PSC also condemned antisemitism and criticized the lawsuit as anti-union.

“Antisemitism is on the rise and must be confronted,” Clark said. “The deeply held convictions and differences of opinion that some PSC members have about Israel and Palestine should not be distorted in service of an anti-union agenda.”

The CUNY professors are seeking refunds of the dues seized from Goldstein, Kass-Shraibman and Langbert’s wages in addition to compensatory damages for the defendants’ “unlawful interference with and deprivation of the professors’ constitutional rights.”