A recent online editorial by William Paterson University associate professor Colleen P. Eren — in which she claimed her union contract’s seniority clause that relates to layoffs is “irrational and unjust” — has prompted a detailed response from AFT Local 1796’s executive board.

In her piece “Amid Layoffs, Union Contracts Force Public Colleges to Ignore Merit,” Eren wrote that “last in, first out” (LIFO) policies — like the one she says is “buried” in her local’s contract — “are poised to become an issue of major concern as more colleges declare fiscal difficulties.”

Among such schools is William Paterson, which claimed financial hardship in 2021 and subsequently announced its plans to lay off tenure-track professors — a group Eren falls into — as well as tenured professors. 

In its response, AFT Local 1796 notes that Eren doesn’t acknowledge the factors that have led to WP’s fiscal woes, among them inadequate state funding and the prior administration’s poor academic and financial decisions.

“The claim that senior faculty are unfairly favored by the union over more junior colleagues reproduces classic aspects of right-wing anti-union rhetoric,” AFT Local 1796 writes. “Senior employees are often the most vulnerable in layoff scenarios, for a variety of reasons. Having worked for many years, they are likely to be the most highly paid employees on staff. It is therefore in the financial interests of the employer to eliminate as many senior employees as possible, regardless of individual merit.”

AFT Local 1796 goes on to say that Eren’s line of thinking “is genuinely shocking coming from someone who claimed to be pro-union, but those who are pro-union don’t withdraw dues-paying union membership as Eren did. She is effectively making the case for importing private sector, corporate labor practices into the public sector. … Eren should understand that unions advocate for unity and solidarity in order to protect all members. Instead, she chooses, based on a priori assumptions, to pit one group against another and serve as the arbitrator of who and what is meritorious and who and what is not.”

To see AFT Local 1796’s full response to Eren’s editorial, click here.

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