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CUNY Professors Sue To Break With Anti-Semitic Union

Professor slams 'abhorrent' law that keeps members from leaving union

Linda Sarsour, co-organizer of the National Womens March and one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People speaks the keynote speaker at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Healths inaugural commencement ceremony June 1, 2017, at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. / Getty Images
• January 18, 2022 5:00 am

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A City University of New York professor says it is "abhorrent" that New York state law forces him and his colleagues to be represented by a union proven to have ignored instances of anti-Semitism.

Kingsborough Community College business department chairman Jeffrey Lax is one of six professors suing to sever ties with the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY's faculty union. Lax was one of the first of 300 professors who resigned from the Professional Staff Congress last year after the union passed a resolution condemning Israel. Lax and his fellow plaintiffs, most of whom are Jewish, say they no longer feel represented by the anti-Zionist union.

The professors are also asking to be reimbursed for union dues they've been forced to pay since leaving the union. The Supreme Court ruled in its landmark 2018 case Janus v. AFSCME that it is unconstitutional for public-sector unions to force workers to pay dues without their express consent.

"To force me to have an anti-Zionist organization represent me when CUNY is against me based on my Zionism is abhorrent," Lax told the Washington Free Beacon. "The plaintiffs have done everything we can to get away from them, but they still represent you when they bargain for you."

The CUNY system and the Professional Staff Congress have been dogged with allegations of anti-Semitism for years. Republican lawmakers protested in 2017 when the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy invited Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian activist with a history of making anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks, to speak at commencement.  A February 2021 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report found that CUNY has fostered an anti-Semitic environment for years.

Lax and his colleagues filed the complaint, which also names CUNY and two state officials as defendants, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The suit claims that the defendants, "acting in concert and under color of state law," "force all Plaintiffs to continue to utilize [the union] as their exclusive bargaining representative" despite allegations of anti-Semitism against the union.

Hundreds of CUNY professors clashed with the Professional Staff Congress last May, when the American Federation of Teachers affiliate condemned Israel for launching counterstrikes in response to Hamas rocket attacks. The union then convened a series of events dedicated to "the struggle against racism and colonialism at CUNY and beyond," which included a panel on "Palestine Solidarity."

The Fairness Center, a law firm that represents public-sector union workers, said the professors' suit seeks to "vindicate" the First Amendment rights that the New York law strips from the professors by forcing them to work with the union.

"Our clients, most of whom are Jewish, should not be forced to associate with a union that engages in hateful, anti-Israel rhetoric and political activity," Nathan McGrath, president of the Fairness Center, told the Free Beacon. "But New York law gives them no choice. That's why they've brought this lawsuit to vindicate their constitutional rights of free speech and free association."