This summer, members of the PSC’s Higher Education Officer (HEO) Chapter and College Lab Technician (CLT) Chapter reached out to colleagues who had not yet signed union cards, and invited them to become PSC members.
Most CUNY faculty and staff signed cards soon after they were hired and are thus PSC members – but others did not, often because they didn’t know that signing a card is required. [Editor’s note: to request a membership card, or to check whether you are a member, click here for more information.]
Anselma Rodriguez was one of the HEO activists who took part in the outreach campaign on the Brooklyn College campus. Rodriguez says many of her colleagues didn’t know they were not union members.
Non-members are required to pay an “agency fee,” equivalent to union dues, to cover the union’s costs of representing all employees in the bargaining unit (as required by law). Non-members often see the agency fee taken out of their check, Rodriguez told Clarion, and wrongly assume that it is their membership dues.
Becoming a PSC member does not cost more, Rodriguez noted, and it allows you to vote in elections for union office and on whether to ratify a proposed contract settlement.
“For people to have a voice in a democratic process is really, really crucial to me,” Rodriguez told Clarion. In the card-signing effort, she says she told co-workers that by becoming members, they increase representation of HEOs within the union and can have a louder voice in decisions about their work.
Active participation in the union is a family tradition for Rodriguez. Her mother, who made handbags in a Brooklyn factory, was a shop steward for the Pocketbook and Novelty Workers Union, and her father was a union member working in a Staten Island nursing home. “Being a unionist can mean more than voting on a proposed contract,” she says today. “It’s about joining committees and getting involved.” That, she says, is where a strong contract comes from.
“Most people are receptive” to signing a union card, said Lucy McIntyre, who works in the University Controller’s Office at CUNY Central. “Once they know they’re paying for something anyway, it’s not hard to get them to sign a card. I don’t encounter much resistance.”
When she spoke with colleagues about becoming a member, one of the most common questions was when a new contract will be finalized, McIntyre told Clarion. Once potential new members start talking, she added, they start to voice things they’d like to see in the contract, such as tuition reimbursement for dependents, systems training and salary increases. Once you’re a member, she points out, these concerns can be raised at a chapter meeting.
Trudy Hilton also works in CUNY Central. “For most people,” she said, “the minute I say to them that the contract is being negotiated – I’ll ask, ‘Do you want to vote on it?’ – then they sign the card.”
Many of the more than two dozen people she’s approached asked why they weren’t automatically given a card when they were first hired, Hilton said. When Hilton began working at CUNY Law School in July 2002, a card was given to her when she started, but that’s not the case for all new hires.
Cindy Bink, director of counseling at City Tech, has been reaching out to other HEO-series employees on her campus. Bink and other chapter activists set up tables at HEO meetings and arranged one-on-one meetings with people who had never signed a card. Bink says she didn’t see the goal as “just recruiting members” – the outreach, she said, was also an opportunity to listen to other people’s concerns and connect with them. “Membership,” Bink tells her colleagues, “is going to help get your employment needs met.”
CLT Chapter Chair Albert Sherman says he met with CLTs at different campuses to build the chapter, and arranged a lot of one-on-one meetings. Because individualized outreach takes time, Sherman told Clarion, progress in the membership drive was “slow but very steady.” He talks to CLTs about the breadth of union-provided benefits, directing them to the PSC, Welfare Fund and CLT websites.
Sherman said the membership push has been one step in building a relationship with the people they talked to, figuring out their issues and concerns and talking with them about how the union could address those concerns.
“Once they become members, they become involved,” Sherman said. “It’s an opening to a door that’s a new adventure.”