Ithaca, N.Y. — N.Y. State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has written a letter to Ithaca College’s president backing the right of adjuncts at IC to form a union.


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Lifton’s letter, which draws on her personal and family history, asks IC President Tom Rochon to refrain from interference in the efforts of part-time faculty to form a union.

“I wanted to weigh in with you to convey my strong support for any group of workers to organize, join a union and bargain collectively for better wages and/or working conditions,” she writes.

“They should be able to do this freely, of course, without fear of harassment, punishment or any undue pressure brought to bear on any adjunct, in this case, so inclined to participate in these activities.”

Last week, Ithaca College’s part-time faculty announced that it had reached the majority support needed and officially filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board to make the union official.

There are about 250 IC adjuncts any given semester. They teach 3-credit, semester-long courses at $3,900 per class and — since they can only teach four classes a year — make less than $16,000 per year, according to organizers.

Related: Why Ithaca College’s part-time faculty say they need a union

Advocates have said that IC’s administration has been supportive and open in their conversations with the adjuncts. Some of that goodwill appeared setback after the adjuncts learned that IC is working with a particular law firm on the issue. (Look for a story later this week in the Ithaca Voice about the law firm.)

Lifton’s letter

Lifton’s email said the unionization issue was important to her not only as a matter of public policy but also because of her personal and family experience.

Here’s the background she referenced in the letter to Rochon:

Lifton’s father: Lifton notes her father, Gerald Smith, was a Ph.D. in English who taught for 30 years and helped form the United University Professors, of which he was chapter president at the SUNY Geneseo campus.

Lifton herself: Prior to being elected an assemblywoman, Lifton was a high school English teacher and an officer in her union.

Lifton’s siblings: Lifton’s sister Kathy was an elementary teacher and vice president of her teacher’s union, where she negotiated a contract for district teachers.

Her younger brother Stephen graduated from Harvard Law and was an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board. Stephen died in 1994, she said.

“Part of the way I keep his memory alive,” Lifton wrote, “is by continuing to stand up firmly for the right of any worker to so organize and vote in a fair union election.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.