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Lookback: Recalling the early days

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Two veteran members of PSC’s New Caucus stepped down from leadership positions in May: Arthurine DeSola, who leaves the post of secretary as Nivedita Majumdar steps in, and Bob Cermele, who exits the role of vice president for senior colleges. Here they recall some of their most memorable fights, discoveries and triumphs over years they served as PSC officers.

Bob Cermele

Vice President for Senior Colleges, 2006-2015
Senior College Officer, 2000-2006

I first was elected as a senior college officer in April 2000, following a long and intense campaign in which the then-insurgent New Caucus slate under the leadership of Barbara Bowen won a majority of the seats on the PSC’s Executive Council.

Bob Cermele
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While the four principal officers – president, first vice president, secretary and treasurer – were elected decisively, not all members of the New Caucus slate won election. The vote for one position was especially close: at first showing a one-vote margin, that contest ended in a tie after one ballot was disqualified.

Winds of Change

At the first Delegate Assembly that I attended after that election, the results of the vote were scheduled to be certified by the DA. There was a debate about the one contested ballot for community college officer, a position that in the end was not filled until a later election. The meeting was highly contentious, with a portion of those in attendance walking out of the meeting, denying the assembly a quorum. We lived through a year of such lively meetings until the next PSC elections in the spring of 2001, when elections in several chapters – including City Tech, where I was elected as chapter chair – were won by New Caucus slates, which changed the makeup of the Delegate Assembly.

I remember vividly the first time that I visited the PSC offices on 43rd Street after the election in 2000 was certified following a raucous Delegate Assembly. I was surprised to be greeted by name by the receptionist as I exited the elevator on the fifth floor. I was there to meet Stanley Aronowitz, distiguished sociologist and PSC officer-at-large at the Graduate Center to review the records of past contract negotiations with CUNY management. Our contract was about to expire in a few months and we had to begin negotiations with CUNY. Those past negotiation records consisted of a cardboard box filled with loose pieces of paper. We worked for several hours, with little to show for our efforts as those pieces of paper were often undated and sometimes incoherent. We worked in the president’s office, without access to a computer; nor did there seem to be other computers available or any Internet access.

Those were heady times, as winds of change coursed through the union and through CUNY. The next fifteen years amply demonstrated why an election can matter.

Arthurine DeSola

PSC Secretary, 2006-2015

When I was elected as PSC secretary in 2006, I was the first member of CUNY’s professional staff to become one of the union’s four principal officers. It’s been an honor to serve. It was a new level of responsibility, and at first it was a little overwhelming. In fact, it was a trial by fire! But over time you adapt, you learn, you get more comfortable with the role.

Arthurine DeSola
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Anything we’ve been able to accomplish, is because of the efforts of PSC members. One of my favorite moments in the past nine years was to see the reaction of management when a group of members brought their children to a bargaining session. They came on a cold Friday morning in January, all with their children – even newborns. I think this was totally unexpected for management.

Babies and Bargaining

These were new faculty, who had been recruited by CUNY but were not yet tenured. Several were high-powered researchers, with grants in excess of $1 million. They told management they had assumed that CUNY had paid family leave like the universities they had come from, and they’d been shocked to find out that CUNY did not provide this. Management’s negotiators were actually embarrassed to meet these union members in person and hear their stories. It was very powerful testimony, and it did a lot to help us to win.

I’ve visited CUNY campuses regularly, speaking with union members at all the colleges within the University. The PSC has so many different constituencies – full-time faculty, both tenured and untenured; Higher Education Officers (HEOs); adjunct faculty; College Lab Technicians (CLTs). It’s a very diverse bargaining unit. It’s important to be fair to everyone, to make sure every group’s needs get attention. That can be difficult, but there’s nothing more important.

An Amazing Ride

The professional staff are critical to the whole CUNY system, you can find them in every aspect of the University. Some HEOs are heads of programs or institutes: Many are in student-service areas like registration or financial aid. CLTs are also very diverse. They are often thought of as the people who set up the beakers or test tubes in a chemistry lab – but CLTs also work in theater departments, computer labs and art studios. Without HEOs and CLTs, you wouldn’t have a City University of New York.

Looking forward, there’s one piece of advice I’d offer every PSC member: take a contract training! In my time in office I’ve seen that too many members don’t know what’s in our contract – and you can’t protect your rights if you don’t know what they are. [Ed. note: Contact Debra Bergen or Albert Munoz to be notified of future contract training sessions.]

For the new members of the Executive Council, I’ll say this: Have fun, work hard, and hold on tight – you’ll be on an amazing ride.