PSC PROTESTS CALL FOR A FULLY FUNDED, SAFE CUNY
New York—With 2,900 of their adjunct colleagues recently laid off and the Legislature slated to reconvene on Monday, CUNY faculty and staff staged simultaneous caravan protests today in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. The actions, organized by their union, the Professional Staff Congress, were in protest against the layoffs, potential State funding cuts to CUNY and the possibility of a life-threatening, premature return to in-person work.
In cars covered in protest signs, wearing masks or peddling well-spaced bicycles, hundreds of protestors honked and hollered their way through communities where CUNY students and alumni live. More than 700 joined the Caravans Through CUNY Communities action on Zoom. Thousands participated on social media.
“The members of the PSC refuse to normalize cuts and layoffs at CUNY. And we will not allow the University administration to put the lives of our members and students at risk by returning to campus before it is safe,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC. “That’s why we’re demonstrating in the communities where our students live. The union stands with CUNY students in our fight to save lives, save jobs and save CUNY. It’s now or never for the Legislature and the Governor to step up and demand that the rich pay their fair share in taxes. Any agenda for justice in rebuilding New York must include full funding of the university its working people and communities of color rely on.”
CUNY has failed to use $132 million in federal CARES Act funding to keep the workers employed “to the greatest extent practicable,” as required by law, according to a PSC lawsuit that seeks to reinstate the adjuncts. Increased State taxes on the rich could also stop planned State budget cuts and fund restoration of the jobs, as could a new federal stimulus, such as the HEROEs Act, passed recently in the House of Representatives.
Without adequate public funding to educate its 272,000 students, CUNY has relied on a corps of 12,000 adjuncts, hired mostly on a course-by-course basis for lower pay and with less job security than their full-time colleagues. Other part-time staff who lost their jobs served as College Lab Technicians and in other vital roles. Adjuncts provide the majority of CUNY instruction; without them the University’s rapid switch to distance learning at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak would have been impossible. Yet more than 20 percent have been laid off and 422 will lose health insurance.
Governor Cuomo has the authority to cut this year’s State budget in response to declining revenues. The cuts applied to CUNY could be as high as $95 million, if Albany refuses to increase taxes on the ultra-wealthy. New York’s 119 billionaires have increased their wealth by a combined $77 billion since March; there is money to fund CUNY in this rich state.
CUNY needs more—not less—public funding. Enrollment for summer classes and first-year students are trending up at many colleges. The University lacks the resources and infrastructure to ensure social distance and safe working and learning conditions.
“Our buildings are anything but safe and healthy. We work in environments with poor ventilation, in large crowed areas. Labs and bathrooms often don’t even have soap and running water,” said Andrea Ades Vásquez, first vice president of the PSC and one of almost 6,000 professional staff at CUNY. “When classes went remote, the PSC had to fight for weeks to force CUNY to allow professional staff, librarians, and counselors to work remotely. How can we now trust that they will prioritize our lives?”
“No return without a safe return” is a fundamental demand for the union and was a common chant and sign at the caravans. The PSC has announced it will fight any return to campus unless and until CUNY complies with State directives on maintaining safety provisions and with State requirement to include the union in reopening plans.
The PSC’s all-out struggle to protect the lives and the jobs of its members will continue to escalate throughout the summer and into the fall. The stakes are high for students, workers and the communities of color that depend on CUNY.
“Students deserve to have small classes with well-paid faculty who can focus on pedagogy and education, not overworked adjuncts terrified of losing their jobs and health insurance during a pandemic. We demand that CUNY reinstate all laid off workers, and ensure that adjuncts have access to consistent employment and health insurance,” said Rosa Squillacote, an adjunct assistant professor at Hunter College and the union’s vice president-elect for part-time personnel.