Semester Starts with Escalating Campaign
In the opening weeks of the academic year, more than 1,000 PSC members attended packed emergency meetings at their campuses. They were brought together by the urgency of winning a fair contract and justice for their students, as CUNY management continued not to respond to an economic proposal offered by the union in May. Faculty and staff have been working six years without a raise, and five years without a contract. With no economic offer yet from CUNY, members met to discuss how they could turn up the pressure on their campuses and out in public.
PSC members at LaGuardia Community College stood in a picket line outside of their college. They talked to students and passersby about how six years without a raise affects their lives and their students’ education.
“We really need our students, their families and the community to be behind us on the contract campaign,” Brooklyn College Chapter Chair James Davis said at a September 10 meeting. “It’s as much about their learning conditions and their education as it is about our wallets.”
Packed Meetings More than 75 people attended the emergency chapter meeting at Brooklyn College, where members offered ideas on how to escalate the contract campaign and many made a commitment to take part in future actions. Some had already made presentations at their departmental meetings about the plan for increasing pressure for a contract; others signed up for a chapter postcard campaign that would reach out to students and the community.
At Hostos Community College, the PSC met on September 16 in a room overflowing with nearly 100 people, and decorated with handmade flags bearing a slogan directed at CUNY management, “No More Excuses!” There they talked with PSC President Barbara Bowen, who laid out a timeline for the union’s escalating campaign. Enthusiasm ran high; members had already downloaded phone apps with novelty alarms for use in the October 1 wake-up-call action, which took place outside the luxury apartment building where Chancellor James B. Milliken lives at taxpayers’ expense. Attendees laughed as one participant sounded her rooster-crow app. Chapter Chair Lizette Colón and Iris DeLutro, vice president for cross-campus chapters, delivered rousing remarks.
New York City has broken the logjam of more than 150 public-sector unions that were without a contract in 2014; more than 80 percent of city workers now have a contract. Only a few unions remain without agreements, and the PSC is one – in part because the unique structure of CUNY limits the City’s sway in the matter.
“We stand out as a group targeted for no contract. At this point you have to ask yourself why, right?” PSC President Barbara Bowen told members at the Brooklyn College meeting. “We have to understand the failure to resolve our contract as an attack on us, an attack on CUNY and an attack on our students.”
Gerald Markowitz, a distinguished professor of history at John Jay College, hands out fliers about the contract campaign to students.
Members at John Jay College also took action to raise the public profile of the contract campaign. Faculty and staff handed out leaflets as students entered the main building. At Baruch, HEOs held one-on-one conversations about the contract campaign with their colleagues, and PSC members at LaGuardia Community College arranged a militant picket line outside of the school during the first weeks of classes. Posters in neon colors announced the urgency of a new contract. “Students! Our working conditions are your learning conditions! We need a raise!” read one sign.
In emergency meetings across the university, union officials discussed a trajectory for the escalating campaign, including the wake-up-call action, teach-ins and lessons about CUNY to take place later this month, a November 4 disruptive mass action and a mass meeting on November 19. Throughout the meetings, members shared strategies on how they would increase involvement.
Union Power At a late September meeting at Kingsborough Community College, PSC First Vice President Mike Fabricant addressed the progress of legislative efforts and contract bargaining. While some progress has been made, he said, it will be the strength of members’ demands and the support of students and community members that will ultimately win the day.
“We do not win a contract because it’s right, we will not win a contract because it’s just,” said Fabricant to the 50 PSC members who attended the meeting. “We’ll win the contract because we build our power.”