Planned Strike Authorization Vote

A message from President Barbara Bowen

Dear PSC Members,

At the union’s Delegate Assembly on October 15, I announced on behalf of the Executive Council that the PSC plans to hold a strike authorization vote. A strike authorization vote—even though it is not a vote to strike—is a significant escalation of our campaign, and we want to ensure that you have ample time to prepare for it. There will be several months of preparation before the vote is taken. The union’s mass meeting on November 19 will offer an opportunity to discuss and plan for the vote. If you want to be part of preparing for the vote, let us know here.

A strike authorization vote is not a vote to strike. It is a vote to authorize the union’s Executive Council to call a strike if necessary. I want to be clear: the PSC leadership is not calling for a strike. We are doing everything we can to reach a fair contract settlement without the need to strike. But given CUNY management’s continued failure to secure State funding and put an economic offer on the table, we cannot rule out being prepared for a strike.

It is perfectly legal to take a strike authorization vote. While New York State’s Taylor Law imposes severe financial and legal penalties on unions and individuals who participate in strikes or other job actions, it does not prohibit employees from engaging in a strike authorization vote or even from urging others to vote yes. As we prepare to take this serious step, however, it is critical that we use our power collectively. At this point, the union leadership has explicitly not authorized a strike or other job action, and no members should attempt such actions on their own. To maximize our effectiveness, we must act with discipline and avoid diluting our power by taking individual actions that could lead to penalties.

A strike authorization vote will give the union the power to use labor’s strongest weapon if, after everything else is tried, we cannot achieve a fair solution any other way. Our goal is to achieve a contract worthy of our work and supportive of our students’ education; it isn’t our goal to strike. Throughout the coming weeks and months, the PSC leadership will continue to work aggressively on every front to achieve a good contract. But six years without a raise, six years of erosion of competitiveness and conditions at CUNY, is intolerable—especially in one of the richest cities in the world. If Chancellor Milliken will not defend CUNY, we will.

The union has used every legal means at its disposal to achieve a fair contract—we have held scores of negotiating sessions, we have met privately with CUNY management, we have advocated in Albany and City Hall, we have testified at public hearings, we have run more than 600 radio ads, and we have engaged in protest actions in the boardroom, on the campuses and in the streets. Chancellor Milliken has still not delivered.

The other PSC officers and I will continue direct advocacy with the Governor’s and Mayor’s Offices, and will strengthen our growing support among labor and community allies. We will also intensify our media campaign and build on the momentum of the October 1 rally at the chancellor’s apartment. I hope that these steps, together with a disruptive action planned for November 4, will force CUNY to put a fair offer on the table and reach a settlement.

If not, however, we are prepared to escalate further. There is too much at stake to allow another academic year to go by without a fair contract and another generation of CUNY students to be shortchanged by underinvestment in their faculty and staff. Failure to invest in our contract represents a political decision not to invest in the people we teach—as well as not to invest in us.

A strike authorization vote is not a step the union leadership takes lightly, even though it is many steps away from actually calling a strike. The PSC has taken a strike authorization vote before, in 1973, to win the union’s first contract. If there is any way we can reach an acceptable agreement now through political pressure and negotiations, we will. The PSC has negotiated solutions with CUNY to extremely challenging issues in the past—such as the landmark settlement on adjunct health insurance—and we will continue to negotiate as productively as possible. But negotiations cannot succeed without a single dollar on the table.

In Seattle, Chicago and a growing number of American cities, teachers have felt forced to strike to defend public education against attempts to degrade their jobs and strip resources from poor communities and communities of color. The crisis at CUNY may be less visible because it has unfolded slowly, but it is no less real. We are up against a planned, systematic effort to devalue our labor as academic workers and to deny our students a high-quality education. By announcing the plan to hold a strike authorization vote, we link our fight to the fights of teachers across the country who have stood up for their own dignity on the job and against racial and economic injustice.

You will hear more in the coming weeks about the planned strike authorization vote, and about an action scheduled for November 4 that will express what is at stake in our contract. The mass meeting on November 19 will also offer a forum for discussion about the strike authorization vote plan.

I ask for your support as the union escalates one step further, carefully and strategically building the power we need to win a fair contract and force a change in the political decision not to invest in CUNY.

In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen
President, PSC