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Cambridge music college under scrutiny from labor regulators

The Longy School of Music’s faculty union and its management are negotiating a new three-year contract.
The Longy School of Music’s faculty union and its management are negotiating a new three-year contract.Globe Staff/File 2013/Globe Staff

A small music college in Cambridge is under scrutiny from federal labor regulators, who have cited administrators for breaking the law in their dealings with the faculty union.

For a school with just 248 students, Longy Music School of Bard College in recent years has faced an unusually large number of complaints from the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that protects the rights of organized workers.

The labor board’s online database shows most major colleges in Boston have one or two open cases. Longy, where faculty unionized in 2010, has three open, two recently adjudicated, and 14 closed cases in the past five years. Two other cases were recently withdrawn.

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The NLRB cannot issue fines, but can order employers to pay back wages or post notices promising not to violate the law. The board tries to encourage employers and employees to work out their differences instead of going to court.

Longy, which has no tenured faculty, is due before an administrative law judge in November to respond to two complaints, which were consolidated, that it has failed to bargain in good faith with the union.

In January, an administrative law judge ruled against the college in a decision that came with instructions for the school. The judge ordered the college to stop informing employees that they were working “at will” and could be fired for any reason, when in fact the contract states that employees can only be terminated for just cause.

The NLRB also ordered Longy to provide the names of new employees to the union, after the school had balked in the past.

A top Longy administrator attributed the large number of labor complaints to “first contract jitters.” In some cases, the administration feels the union made unreasonable requests or asked for excessive information, said Jim Moylan, the school’s associate dean for academic affairs and special assistant to the office of the president.

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“Life on our first contract tends to be a little more turbulent than that of a more mature labor-management relationship,” Moylan said.

Meanwhile, the union, in various complaints from the labor board, has accused administrators of various attempts to deliberately shut out the union, which is a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts.

Because of ongoing contract negotiations, the union last week was reluctant to criticize administrators, saying it is “days away” from a new three-year agreement that is likely to include raises.

“The union still believes that the faculty needs a voice at the school, to try to secure the future of the school,” said union president Jane Hershey.

The faculty’s current contract expired in 2014, but was then extended for a year and then by several more months, and is set to expire at the end of October, Hershey said.

Moylan, the administrator, said this round of contract negotiation is much smoother than the first.

“There’s some thorny issues that we’re still trying to work out, but it’s much more respectful,” he said.

Tension between the union and management at the school has been high since the union formed.

A prior complaint to the labor board by Longy faculty resulted in a 2011 decision by a US District Court judge, ordering the administration to rehire eight instructors whose positions were eliminated shortly after the union formed.

Faculty and administrators also clashed when the school announced in 2013 that it would stop offering music lessons and classes to children and amateur adult players.

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Professors said the school, which merged with Bard College in 2011, experienced a larger-than-normal number of staff departures this year, and a number of faculty aren’t teaching this semester because the school cut many classes.

Moylan said the school has experienced normal attrition — about five employees every three years — but did not provide a specific number.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.