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Long Island University marked Labor Day by reminding us that unions are still important.

Long Island University

Starting today, it’s locked out 400 unionized faculty members on its Brooklyn campus over an ongoing contract dispute. That means professors aren’t allowed to teach, aren’t being paid, and can’t even access their work email and health insurance.

According to DNAInfo, the dispute between faculty and university administrators centers on a salary disparity. The university pays the faculty of its Brooklyn campus significantly less than the faculty of its suburban campus on Long Island:

The faculty is now negotiating a new, three-year contract that would increase wages for new hires, making the minimum salary at the Brooklyn campus equal to the minimum salary at the Post campus.

The minimum salary for new professors at LIU Post is $96,000, while the minimum salary for new professors at LIU Brooklyn under the administration’s proposal would be just $80,000, according to [LIU Faculty Federation Vice President] Engelman.

LIU’s action seems to be motivated in part by previous union activity. In a statement, a LIU spokesperson cited a 2011 faculty strike to justify the lockout, saying “[W]ork stoppages were designed to cause the most disruption and impact to the student learning experience.”

That statement did not explain the salary disparity between its urban and suburban campuses. It also didn’t mollify the American Federation of Teachers, which represents locked out faculty. In her own statement, AFT president Randi Weingarten called LIU’s actions “contemptuous” and accused it of bullying faculty.

LIU’s drastic decision seems likely to backfire. Classes start today, which means LIU Brooklyn students will encounter a raucous picket linein addition to courses that won’t be taught by the professors they’re paying to study under. Talk about a learning experience.