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Teacher union claims Dowling violated contract on pay, benefits

Dowling College laid off more than 450 employees

Dowling College laid off more than 450 employees in early June and is winding down its operations. The 48-year-old private college has campuses in Oakdale, shown here, and Shirley. Photo Credit: Chuck Fadely

The state’s largest teachers union is taking action against Dowling College to try to recoup severance pay and health benefits for full-time faculty members laid off two months ago from the Oakdale institution, a spokesman said Monday.

New York State United Teachers, on behalf of 47 Dowling professors and staffers, has filed a demand for arbitration, claiming the college violated its contract by not giving employees 10 months of severance pay and discontinuing payments to their self-funded health plan, administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Co.

The union is awaiting the college’s response to the demand, filed last month, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said Monday. The union represents about 600,000 educators statewide.

“It is fair to say that Dowling faculty members are owed millions of dollars in severance pay and health insurance benefits,” said Korn, who did not provide a specific dollar amount. “NYSUT is fighting tooth and nail to protect the contractual rights of its members at Dowling. They served students and the college with dignity and dedication for years, only to be left high and dry.”

Korn said Dowling denied members’ grievances and the union now is pushing for an arbitration date. An arbitrator would be selected from the American Arbitration Association and would decide if Dowling violated the contract.

Dowling President Albert Inserra and Chad Shandler, chief restructuring officer at the college, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nancy Sterling, a spokeswoman for the school, said as it is “a matter potentially going to arbitration, then it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment.”

Dowling, a private liberal arts college with campuses in Oakdale and Shirley, will lose its academic accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education on Aug. 31. The school is winding down operations after unsuccessful efforts to strike a deal with Global University Systems, or GUS, an educational investment firm based in the United Kingdom.

Burdened with $54 million in long-term debt, Dowling announced plans to close May 31, telling its 453 employees in an email that their last day of employment was June 1 and that all benefits would cease on June 2.

The college set two different dates that it would close — June 3 and June 8 — then reversed course, staying open on a streamlined basis and hoping negotiations with GUS would save the school.

Faculty members were not rehired and have been seeking other job opportunities and filing for unemployment benefits. Many, citing their job searches, have declined to comment.

Korn said several of the union’s members have indicated that the college had not paid its health insurance premiums since January and have not provided employees with information about how to continue health coverage under the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA.

“Our members are getting the bills from the doctors saying ‘You owe this’ because Dowling isn’t paying the claims,” Korn said.

Dowling is officially open and has not provided a date of closure to the state Education Department, a spokesman for the agency said Monday. While the Education Department oversees the college, it is not legally empowered to close the school.

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