CUNY Contract Falls Short of Justice

This doesn't look like a victory.

Graduate Center, CUNY
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

After a six-year long battle with the city and state of New York, employees at the City University of New York (CUNY) finally have a new contract to vote on.

The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union representing CUNY’s faculty and professional staff, voted 92% to authorize a strike last April. Negotiations resumed shortly thereafter and the city, state, and university agreed to terms to replace the contract that expired in 2010.

Now, in an effort to quell worker discontent, the leadership of the PSC has initiated a campaign to encourage workers to vote yes in the ongoing vote on the negotiated contract.

In an open letter to members, PSC President Barbara Bowen warned workers,

“A ‘no’ vote on ratification would mean no salary increases and no retroactive pay unless they are agreed to by CUNY, the City and the State as part of a renegotiated contract.” [emphasis: hers]

Having stirred up the militancy of the workers for the sake of public spectacle, Bowen is now backpedaling on the prior demands for pay increases to match the 12% inflation since the last contract period. She describes the pay adjustments as being at a “minimum acceptable level” of 10.41%.

Despite calls to postpone voting to the fall when faculty are more likely to be in town, PSC delegates voted overwhelmingly to hold the voting over the summer from 11 July through 3 August. Members are able to vote by mail, by phone, or through a voting portal on the PSC website.

In response, a group of PSC members calling themselves CUNY Struggle has been writing against the new contract as an unfair compromise. Glenn Kissack, a member of the union’s executive council which negotiated and reached the initial agreement, laid out a number of reasons why he voted against the agreement:

“Despite all the sacrifices and determination, the proposed agreement—while containing some gains—is an austerity contract, not the transformative one that members hoped for.”

Kissack slams the proposed contract for its failure to address pay inequality between full-time professors and part-time contracted adjuncts who bear the same classroom responsibilities as faculty without the job security.Another group within the union, the Adjunct Faculty Assembly, have taken a similarly pessimistic line on the new contract. Writing for their blog, Rita Tobin takes issue with the proposed provision to ensure longer-term contract periods for adjuncts:

“Indeed, few adjuncts, even those teachers who have been hired year after year for decades, will qualify. Moreover, CUNY has the right to review the contract provision in 2020, thus making the promise of job security even more illusory.  The 3-year contract is tempting, tasty bait; yet few will qualify and that bait may soon disappear.”

Tobin argues that the requirements for the proposed three-year appointments - six consecutive semesters of employment in one department and the approval of the school’s president - will ultimately preclude most existing adjunct faculty who are often hustling between multiple CUNY campuses to make ends meet.

To protest the proposed contract, union members have organized a rally for Thursday 14 June at the PSC headquarters.

Michael Isaacson is an Adjunct Lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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