What West Virginia teachers teach us
I visited West Virginia on the day teachers voted to continue the statewide strike against the advice of their union’s leadership. While the situation of K-12 teachers in West Virginia is different than the conditions of PSC members, some of the lessons from West Virginia are very relevant to us.
First is that the victory of teachers in West Virginia should lead CUNY faculty to question the wisdom that we can never strike due to the Taylor Law. What the West Virginia teachers demonstrated was that our employer can’t fire us all at once; the defense against the legal repercussions of striking is solidarity. That’s as true in a citywide strike in a huge city and system like CUNY as it is in a statewide strike in West Virginia.
Many PSC members are also members of other education unions, and many of our students, family and community members are also in unions. We’ve let the state and city whipsaw us using the stick of the Taylor Law and the carrot of future help from “allies” and “friends” winning elections. The result is that we’ve not been able to overcome the inequality within our own union or to successfully confront the broad effects of austerity on our jobs, our families, our students and our city. Rather than viewing fellow workers and community members merely as allies or supporters, we should build concrete solidarity as broadly as possible.
West Virginia teachers proved that solidarity can win demands even against a hostile statehouse and legislature. In New York, people often argue, and have here in Clarion, that things are different in that some elected Democrats are considered to be union and worker friendly, but we have to really question the success of a strategy that relies on their good will or power to win gains for us based on the outcomes we’ve so far observed. As in West Virginia, cuts to CUNY and the public sector have happened under progressives and centrist leadership and under Democrats and Republicans alike.
We need concerted rank-and-file organizing campus by campus and department by department. That’s the real lesson of West Virginia, and one with a great deal of possibility here in New York.
Kate Doyle Griffiths
Over the spring semester, I had the opportunity to visit many colleagues across my campus as I assisted with the effort to get people to sign their blue cards and commit to the union. The enthusiasm and support for the PSC was heartening. I gained so much insight from these conversations, that reinforced my belief in the importance of being a supportive member of the PSC. The degree to which our lives, professional and personal, are enhanced by union membership is a wonderful thing.
As such, we must never take what we have for granted. Necessities such as a livable wage and healthcare are sustainable only through our continued full support of the PSC. The power of collective bargaining makes these and all of the other benefits we depend on possible.
In the coming months, opting out of fee paying may be presented as a good deal, but falling for this kind of ruse will ultimately ensure that any perceived benefits are very short term. Without our collective commitment, we have no power to bargain. That is the bottom line.
As a senior college laboratory technician, I’ve seen that despite not being the largest chapter within the PSC, we do have a real voice. In our work, job duties can shift in any direction: programs and new courses being added, changes to existing curriculum, new technology, administrative changes, to name just a few. This typically results in the addition of duties to our workload, rather than simply changing what we do. In terms of the CLT salary schedule, this issue is just one of many, in one chapter of many that needs to be addressed as we move toward creating a new contract. Again, however, it takes a strong union to make things like this happen. Given the political climate we live in, it cannot be overstated how important it is that we remain a united workforce.
The Baruch betrayal
We have a great many reasons to doubt the wisdom of Baruch College’s new Signature School Program with the Central Intelligence Agency. Some are moral – dealing with thorny issues of right and wrong – and some are practical.
We quickly learned that arguing moral points gives us no traction with our president, Mitchel Wallerstein. Having served as an assistant secretary in the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, President Wallerstein believes that despite the mistakes it has made, our country’s national security apparatus protects us in a dangerous world. He acknowledges that the CIA has been responsible for atrocities, but believes that the good it does by preserving us from harm far outweighs any damage it inflicts.
As a consequence, I have largely abandoned my efforts to speak of my doubts about the morality of the roles the CIA has played in torturing prisoners since 9/11. But I would like to briefly share my outlook with my colleagues.
I was a Naval flier during the Vietnam War. Because I was in continual danger of being shot down over North Vietnam and taken prisoner, the Navy sent me through its SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program, where I was treated as a POW and trained to resist. I was tortured there – badly. We were told that we were being subjected to this torture in order to help us withstand it if we were captured. The US military felt that its troops had performed badly under torture in the Korean War and that our country’s honor had been besmirched. We were undergoing this brutal regimen in order to help protect America’s honor, they explained.
Now fast forward to the present, when we know that the CIA applied the expertise gained torturing those who went through its SERE program to refine the techniques it used on captives taken in the so-called “War on Terror.” This is, for me, the very essence of betrayal. I was used, to put it baldly, as a guinea pig in the development of CIA torture practices (which it euphemistically calls “enhanced interrogation”).
I have no ability to ignore this. There are many practical reasons why we should oppose Baruch’s alliance with the CIA – for me there is an overriding moral imperative. How, I ask, can we pretend that liberal arts education is intended to provide students with something like a moral compass when our university quite clearly lacks one of its own?
Quality healthcare for all is a basic human right. It is not a commodity only for those who can afford the ever-rising costs of treatment and medicine. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is wishful thinking without universal healthcare.
The PSC contingent of in-service and retiree members made that point by participating in the New York Health Care Act rally and lobbying day in Albany on June 5.
We retirees understand the need for healthcare for all, especially as we age. In-service PSC members know that they have healthcare needs now and that they are retirees-in-training.
We know that we are fortunate (based on the struggles of previous generations of organized workers) to have NYC health benefits and a PSC Welfare Fund. We know that powerful and well-financed campaigns are out to shrink and privatize the public good of healthcare for all and the whole social safety net. This month we rallied and lobbied for the direct, immediate interests of our members.
Our interests are embedded in the needs and interests of the whole working class. They are one.
To be divided on this issue is a recipe for class weakness and defeat. How can we seek solidarity in support of our interests in public higher education as a public good if we “get ours” and ignore the health- care needs of the whole people?
We are engaged in an ongoing political process to construct a bill and a program of quality healthcare for all. Let’s do it. Together. For a more developed view of the dynamics of this struggle, and of ways to participate, go to NYHA.org.
LaGuardia Community College
Feeling top heavy
This spring, the Graduate Center (GC) administration requested that the CUNY Board of Trustees add an “excellence fee” of $100 per credit to our new master’s programs, plus two of the existing ones. Considering students paying the current tuition rate of $440 per credit hour could finish a 30-credit master’s degree for under $15,000 – including fees – that amounts to a 20 percent increase in a new master’s student’s bill.
GC administration promised the extra dollars would go toward the master’s programs directly, allowing them to enhance student experiences and outcomes. It has become increasingly clear that the fees are necessary because the GC wants to spend more on salaries for high-level administrators.
This summer, the GC will add two entirely new dean positions. How much will they earn? What will their budgets be? How many new staff do we think they will get? Numbers may vary, but even being conservative in our estimates, it will be a lot more money than the $100 fees will raise.
Even if the GC keeps increasing master’s student numbers, it would take years to make up the yearly expense of these extra deans. Basically, the GC has the money to better fund master’s programs, plus have some left over, but they are choosing to spend it on administrative salaries. And the center’s office of communications and marketing will see a large increase in staff (at one point this spring they had six job openings listed).
Meanwhile, the master’s programs themselves have not gotten their own assistant program officers; they share them with existing programs (adding to the workload of already overworked academic program officers in the building). And offices like mine, in admissions, are expected to recruit and process more applicants without increases in staff or resources.
I can’t help but be angry with the fact that students are being asked to fork over more money when the GC administration is spending so much to increase executive-level administrative costs. CUNY is following the trend of many other schools in being top heavy, a trend we should be bucking instead.
We have to ask: How many adjuncts could get a raise to $7K with all the extra money going to upper-level management? We still need more money from the state and/or city to fully fund CUNY, but management is digging a hole and expecting workers and students to get them out. It’s time someone took away their shovels.
All for one
When our union is operating at its best, HEOs, adjunct faculty, full-time faculty, CLTs, graduate assistants, research associates and the many other PSC titles all have one another’s backs. Each group operates not just in its own self-interest, but in and for the interests of the others.
Because full-timers, especially those with tenure or Certificate of Continuous Administrative Service (13.3b) have more power and job stability, I suspect that we often think of this solidarity running one way – the better-off helping out the not-so-well-off. But it isn’t always this way, and it shouldn’t be, if we’re serious about having a powerful wall-to-wall union.
Anh Tran is the appointed grievance counselor at the Graduate Center, as well as the vice chair of the chapter. To my knowledge, she is the only campus-level counselor who is a part-timer. Due to what I can only understand as a product of the historic inequities in the PSC, typically full-time faculty have a campus-level grievance counselor, while HEOs, CLTs and adjunct faculty have to call 61 Broadway with their issues (this is something we should change, but that is for another letter).
Anh is, to say the least, incredibly talented at her job. In less than a year, she has met with more than 50 potential grievants and has resolved five cases outside of the formal grievance process. She currently has five pending cases, and seven more potential cases. She has attended Weingarten Rights meetings and has supported HEO and adjunct grievants, even though that is not her turf.
In May, a grievance she filed was affirmed at Step One, something the union’s contract enforcement department told me “almost never happens.” The very same day, Anh successfully defended a member in a Weingarten meeting. What is most striking about these two cases is not just that Anh is talented – she is – but that they are concrete examples of a part-timer successfully defending full-timers formally to management.
Anh spends the bulk of her time organizing some of the most exploited segments of the workforce – adjuncts and graduate assistants. But when management takes a swipe, she fights on behalf of all titles. This is real wall-to-wall unionism.