It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that a great institution of labor may soon be going extinct. It was announced by the Board of Trustees that the National Labor College would be permanently closing in the near future.
The NLC was the only institution of higher learning that focused on labor studies and worked to provide union members the chance to acquire an advanced degree. Through the years as a college education became more and more important to all workers the college offered union members the opportunity to attend college at a very reasonable price. The AFL-CIO would subsidize some of the tuition costs for AFL-CIO members to keep the rates low enough that any member could afford to attend. This was a major benefit for members looking to further their education and become stronger a voice in the labor movement.
Nobody is denying the fact that recently the school has encountered significant financial problems. As technology rapidly evolves, the school has continued to bolster their online education division. Many of the schools 700+ courses were offered online. This is a great way to provide education to those members who could not move to Maryland to attend college. However the NLC has always retained an actual campus where students could attend, just like any other college. This created an issue for the NLC as attendance at the school dropped and students opted for online courses.
This is where the financial issues arose. The Board made the decision to become a virtual school and offered to sell their entire campus to save the millions of dollars needed to retain it. Sadly the sale of the campus fell through, and the board has opted to close the entire school due to a lack of funding.
I reached out to a Mark King (AFT-FPE) a recent graduate and 2012 Class President to ask him how he felt about the announcement to close the NLC.
“I am heartsick to learn of the closing of The National Labor College, the premier educational institution geared to the educational needs of all workers, but especially focused on union members.
I have learned as much from my fellow students there as I did from my classes. I have learned from more experienced classmates how they dealt with grievences and other issues, shortening my learning curve as a labor official. Thanks to NLC I have friends in the labor movement from around the US – the school served to introduce and connect people from all unions that operate under the auspices of the AFL-CIO as well as those which did not, a huge pro union, pro worker, pro democracy meltingpot that has touched the lives of a great many labor activists. The connections made there will continue to ripple into the future.
I had the honor of being elected President of Student Government. I was elected to give the 2012 commencement speech. NLC has been a big part of my life, and a big part of my hope for the future of the Labor Movement. Working people, working together, beat the forces of nearly unlimited corporate money and insure that Democracy has a chance each election cycle. NLC educated and networked many of these everyday heroes, the loss of this institution dedicated to the Labor Movement is a loss to all Americans.
Sign this petition to let Mr. Trumka know how the loss of NLC affects you. Rumor has it that he could not vote to shut the school down, but abstained…
I’m a graduate of NLC, as well as a current member of the NLC/George Mason ODKM Cohort 3, where I am working toward a Masters Degree that will help me to work within the Labor Movement to the betterment of all working people. I’m paying the education I received there forward by being President of my Local, AFT-FPE #4831 and Secretary For AFT-NH. I’ve chosen my Major so as to do more. I’m dedicating my life to the cause of working folks. NLC helped me find my path. I’m heartfeltly sorry to see the institution is shutting down.”
The closing of the school has raised some new issues; what about the union workers at the school who have a collective bargaining agreement with the school, and what about the students who are looking to finish their degrees?
Recently the Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild (CWA-TNG) – the union that represents workers at the National Labor College – released a statement for the NLC to uphold their agreements to the students and the college workers.
“Our union, comprised of professionals and faculty members, calls on the National Labor College and the AFL-CIO to ensure that the student body has a seamless path to finish out their degrees, and that the college meets its contractual obligations to its union-represented staff. How the closure proceeds will reflect greatly on the labor movement, its values and how it honors its obligations to union members, both as students and employees.
The National Labor College was founded and supported by the AFL-CIO to help working families and union members pursue higher education as the cost of college has become increasingly out-of-reach for many American families. A recent report by the College Board found that for 2013-2014, the median tuition and fees price tag was over $11,000 — not including room and board. Since the college’s founding, the AFL-CIO has always subsidized tuition for union members to make the cost of attendance affordable. The AFL-CIO and the National Labor College should continue to work together to ensure moral and contractual obligations to students and staff are met.” (emphasis added)
What will the AFL-CIO – the major benefactor in the college – and the college’s President Paula Peinovich, do to honor the contracts they entered into with these workers and their students? Will they abandon the workers like every other private corporation has done in recent bankruptcy cases, or will they find a way to fill out their collective bargaining agreement?
I do not have the answers to these questions; there are only a handful of people who can. As an advocate for unions, and a strong believer in the collective bargaining process, I would hope that the school would do what is right for the workers first then worry about all the other issues. Protecting workers and holding employers accountable to the collective bargaining agreement is what we in the labor movement are fighting for every day. It would be a detrimental blow to all of us if the AFL-CIO were to abandon workers in this way.
The ball is in your court now, Mr. Trumka.
There is an online petition circulation to show support for the National Labor College and it currently has just shy of 1000 supporters. Click here if you would like to add your name, as I have, to encourage the Mr. Trumka and the entire Board to reconsider their decision to close the school. I have included the text of the petition below.
President Trumka, American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
The National Labor College (NLC) is one of a kind, the only college in the United States with an exclusive mission to serve the educational needs of the labor movement. It is an activist institution made up of students, faculty and alumni who together form a learning community based on a common understanding of the world of work and the ecology of the labor movement. The College respects that its student body is made up of experienced, highly skilled working adults who have multiple commitments to family, job, union and community. In its academic programs, NLC honors higher learning that takes place both inside and outside the collegiate community.
Today, the NLC Board has determined to close the school.
Several costly financial decisions were made such as the decision to renovate the campus in 2006 and then build a 73,000 square foot building on the campus in 2007 (apparently the result of an overly optimistic ‘build it and they will come’ perception at the time). The physical college campus in Maryland is currently for sale and a buyer will eventually be found so that portion of the financial problem will be solved.
The long-term growth opportunity of the college rests in the administration’s promising development of the institution’s online format that now makes courses accessible to millions of workers throughout the world. Some courses could still be offered ‘in person’ via the use of our Central Labor Council offices, local labor union offices and worker’s centers.
I could not imagine a scenario wherein the school would not be financially viable after the sale of the NLC’s Maryland campus is completed and financial resources become available for administering and maintenance of the institution’s online instruction.
Please keep the National Labor College open.
Stop the Closure of the Labor Movement’s Only -The National Labor College