EDITOR’S NOTE: As we went to press, PSC President Barbara Bowen announced that the union plans to hold a strike authorization vote sometime in the next several months. Bowen emphasized that it will be a vote to authorize the PSC’s Executive Council to call a strike if necessary; the union’s goal is to achieve a good contract without the need to take a job action. An affirmative vote by the PSC membership would “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.”
PSC President Barbara Bowen addresses the crowd at the October 1 rally outside of Chancellor Milliken’s luxury apartment.
The following is an excerpt from the letter sent to PSC-CUNY members on October 15 by President Barbara Bowen.
Dear PSC Members,
At the union’s Delegate Assembly this evening, 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.
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.
Worthy of Our Work
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, and we have engaged in protest actions in the boardroom, on the campuses and the streets. Chancellor Milliken has still not delivered.
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.
One Step Further
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 make sure our students do not have 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.
I ask for your support as the union escalates one step further, carefully and strategically building the power needed to win a fair contract and force a change in the political decision not to invest in CUNY.