Supporting Yale strikers
Conservatives and the so-called liberal media elite have finally found an activity to unite around: shaming Yale graduate student workers who are on hunger strike for union recognition. The Chronicle of Higher Education and the National Review ran cynical articles arguing hunger strikes should be a tactic reserved for more adversely affected groups. Other critics from the Brookings’ Center for Children and Families and Politico have (falsely) accused Yale students of using the tactic only symbolically.
The fact that Yale students put their health on the line for union recognition should make us question whether they’re as privileged as their critics suggest. As a graduate student worker myself, I share these students’ sense of foreboding over a future without unions and where 75 percent of available teaching jobs are only part time. The focus on how genuinely hungry these strikers are as a metric of how legitimate their claims are also ignores the underlying issues motivating the hunger strike. Sure, Yale students are more privileged than most, but like everyone else, they deserve more than just bread and butter. They deserve mental health care, workplaces free of sexual harassment and the right to unionize without the fear of intimidation.
What Yale students are risking their bodies for does not deny the rest of us anything and, in fact, increases the strength of all of us as workers and union members. When privileged people speak, more people listen and, indeed, Yale students have used their privileged positions to call attention to the broader casualization and corporatization of higher education. I hope Clarion readers will stand with graduate student workers everywhere.
Don’t believe the hype
We should all be worried about what happens when the Supreme Court decides that agency fees violate the free speech rights of colleagues who enjoy union-negotiated wages, benefits and job protections, but prefer not to pay fair share dues.
We don’t know much about these consequences yet. What will happen with the New York State Taylor Law or federally regulated “duty of fair representation”? But we do know that dues check-off is probably not at risk. Check-off is a contractual arrangement between the employer and the union and has little to do with the economic negotiations that free riders find so offensive, which makes the recent gambit by the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) such a transparent (and bogus) maneuver.
On May Day, State Senator Marisol Alcantara introduced bill S-5778, which “Protects the Right to Join a Union and Fights Union-Busting Laws,” and was endorsed by the state AFL-CIO and a host of public- and private-sector union leaders. Down in the textual weeds, however, the bill merely amends civil service law to require public employers to offer dues check-off to union members. Whoop-de-do.
Why bother? The answer’s in the hype. The IDC enables the Republicans to maintain control of the State Senate. Every IDC member can expect a primary challenge next year from a genuine Democrat fired up by resistance to the Trump agenda. Alcantara already faces a challenge from Robert Jackson, who almost beat her last time out. Primary elections usually have low turnout, which makes union support (or at least neutrality) critical to defending the IDC and keeping the GOP in control of the State Senate.
The State Senate has never been a friend of CUNY (or of labor). Last year, the IDC supported the governor’s proposal to cut $485 million from CUNY. Without GOP control of the Senate, the governor cannot practice his politics of austerity, which could help him capture the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Too bad.
Don’t fall for the hype. The IDC cannot protect public employee unions in New York State.
Clarity on settlement
Contrary to the statement in Clarion, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) settlement regarding the new contract does not state that the contract terms were “open and transparent” with respect to three-year contracts. In fact, the settlement makes no statement regarding the contract terms, but rather merely affirms that the grievance procedures apply to the three-year contracts.
The session held at PERB in March 2017 was a mediation conference, with no evidence taken and no findings made. We, the charging parties, withdrew the charge in return for assurances from CUNY and the PSC that full grievance proceedings would be afforded to those adjuncts who did not receive three-year contracts and were terminated. That settlement agreement neither required nor included an admission of fault.
To prevail on a breach of the duty of fair representation (DFR) charge, a charging party must demonstrate, not merely that an agreement is reasonably clear (presumably, a lower standard than “open and transparent”), but also that a union has intentionally lied to its membership. In other words, even if the charging parties had litigated the charge and lost, there might have been no finding that the contract was clear. On the contrary, an administrative or state court judge might have believed that the contract was unclear, confusing and misleading, yet still ruled that the union had not breached the DFR.
Particularly now that – as we had feared – senior adjuncts have been denied three-year contracts and fired, it behooves the PSC to get its facts straight. As a great New Yorker, union supporter and believer in “clarity and transparency,” Senator Daniel Moynihan famously admonished his colleagues on the floor of the United States Senate, saying, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”
Alternative facts from the PSC? We certainly hope not.
Hunter College and Graduate Center
Jane Clark and Andrew Gottlieb
Borough of Manhattan
Editor’s note: Clarion vigorously supports the importance of accuracy and truth in reporting. The phrase “open and transparent” was not quoted from the PERB settlement, nor was it a phrase used by PERB. The article should have made that distinction clear. As noted in the article, the PERB settlement restates the union’s position that the new three-year appointments for adjuncts are grievable under the current PSC contract. See the report on page 3 of this issue about grievances of three-year appointments already filed. The report makes it clear that the vast majority of eligible “senior adjuncts,” far from being fired, have received secure three-year appointments.