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Home » Clarion » 2016 » April 2016 » Vote preparation strengthens PSC chapters

Vote preparation strengthens PSC chapters


As PSC members prepared to take a strike authorization vote beginning the week of May 2, Clarion reached out to campus activists to find out how their chapters had been affected by the organizing done for the vote. (Click here to learn how to cast your vote.)

Luke Elliott-Negri

Graduate Assistant, Sociology Doctoral Program
PSC Chapter Chair, The Graduate Center

Let’s not sugarcoat it — news from Albany this month was bleak. While we must continue to build formal political leverage in Albany — through relationships with NYSUT, community organizations and other labor unions and, most importantly, by organizing CUNY alumni and students — we have the most control over internal organizing. In fact, some 90 percent of those we’ve talked to in the Graduate Center chapter (which includes the School of Professional Studies, the School of Public Health and the School of Journalism) have pledged publicly to support strike authorization! The next step, of course, is to talk to every member.

Sarah Hughes, union semester program coordinator at the Murphy Institute, shows her support for strike authorization at a Graduate Center rally held on March 22.

This requires nothing short of empowering dozens — if not a couple hundred — of members, providing good data and organizing training, if necessary, to talk to every single worker in every single department. This is how we build power during objectively difficult times, holding Governor Cuomo to his commitment to address our situation once we have agreed to a contract with CUNY management.

Meg Kallman Feeley

Adjunct Lecturer, English Department
PSC Part-Time Liaison, Kingsborough Community College

At the last chapter meeting at Kingsborough, I found myself saying that the strike authorization vote was the best thing that ever happened to our chapter. (I guess we have Governor Cuomo to thank.) In a little over a month, I saw about 20 of us come together — full-timers, part-timers, HEOs — to train to speak with our colleagues, one on one, about the strike authorization vote. I will admit, I did not know them all. I remember the low voices — the concerns that we wouldn’t have time to organize everyone, or that our outreach would not be well-received, or even that we might experience retribution for supporting the vote.

We adapted different strategies, from tabling in the breezeway to attending departmental meetings, to one-on-one conversations and buttonholing people near the mailboxes. What I witnessed, and spoke to at the chapter meeting, was the momentum that gathered in a few short weeks. Shortly after we began, our brothers and sisters from District Council 37 started their own table, right next to ours. Our college president stopped by, and said: “Don’t be too quick to strike. We need you.” It was nice to hear. Soon, I was being stopped several times a day to answer the question “What’s going on with the union?” — even by those who did not immediately sign a pledge to vote yes. But the most profound change was in the speed and comfort with which we contacted each other: via text, or email, or in the parking lot in the middle of the day, over the weekend. Sometimes just a “V” sign thrown as we passed in the halls.

Posters declaring I’m Voting Yes started to line the hallway. And you could feel something change in a few short weeks: We were together, even when we differed. I heard from several colleagues who changed their positions, and we hugged. Something seems to have changed because we had this conversation on our campus, and I hope it gives us the strength to work together as a chapter in the future.

James Davis

Professor, English Department
PSC Chapter Chair, Brooklyn College

The strike authorization campaign has energized the Brooklyn College chapter to a degree I haven’t seen in years. Forty faculty and staff members have been holding one-on-one conversations with colleagues, and listening has been an important part of our outreach. We want to persuade everyone to support strike authorization, of course, but we also see this campaign as an opportunity to promote the chapter’s visibility as an agent of positive change on our campus.

It has been a crash course in the CUNY and state budgets, the legislative process, and New York labor law. Although many of us are speaking to colleagues in our own departments or in our same job titles, conversations are also happening across these lines, helping members understand one another’s concerns and interests. As a full-time professor, for example, it’s important that I understand the concerns of HEOs, contingent faculty, and others who feel vulnerable. At the same time, as union activists, Brooklyn College member-organizers are making the case that the best response to this vulnerability is in solidarity.

Jennifer Harrington

Assistant Director of Academic Advisement, Office of Academic Programs
School of Public Affairs, Baruch College

Talking confidentially to my Baruch colleagues, both faculty and staff, about the strike authorization vote — what it means, what it entails, and any possible repercussions it may engender — has brought more awareness and momentum to chapter-building at Baruch. In fact, very early on in the process of gathering signatures, a colleague asked me, “Why doesn’t Baruch have a faculty chapter chair?” I didn’t have an answer for her right away, but after learning more about the PSC’s efforts, I was able to tell her that the PSC hopes to have a new faculty chapter chair as soon as possible, after a voting process.

I strongly believe that having these one-on-one conversations regarding the strike authorization vote opened people’s eyes to the benefits of union membership and the idea that a union is only as strong as its members (and their participation). I expect Baruch PSC membership and chapter-building to grow significantly as a result of these conversations.

Michele Doney

Director of the Math & Science Resource Center
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Organizing around the upcoming strike authorization vote at John Jay is actively underway. Our John Jay chapter has 43 trained activists, including 18 HEOs. We’re raising awareness, answering questions and inviting members to take the pledge. Of the people who have been visited by activists, 70 percent have signed, and most of the rest are still deciding. Very, very few have ruled it out, and even among those few, a common sentiment is that although they do not favor a job action, they still recognize the critical importance of not crossing a picket line.

Robert Cermele

Professor, Mathematics Department
PSC Chapter Chair, New York City College of Technology

For decades a major issue at City Tech was the teaching load of professorial faculty. When we became a senior college in 1980, we taught 27 contact hours, as do all community colleges. Fifteen years ago we embarked on an effort for an equitable 21-hour teaching load at Tech.

It was a bottom-up type of organizing since there was a nearly unanimous desire for workload equity among the faculty. After a series of incremental reductions, we achieved our goal two years ago. The final push was a petition drive whose objective was to get full-time faculty to sign. We achieved about 80 percent of that goal, with around 350 signers.

So when the effort to sign members up on the strike authorization vote effort began, we were ready. Of course, this time it was a top-down effort that required trained activists to explain the rather complex issues, making it more difficult to secure signatures. However, the issue of the strike authorization vote has activated the membership to a degree not seen since our workload organizing effort. Additionally, another effect of the strike authorization vote campaign has been an increased awareness of the PSC’s legislative efforts on the budget, and members tell me that they send their emails to the legislators and the governor as soon as they receive a message from the union asking them to do so.

Lizette Colón

Faculty Counselor
PSC Chapter Chair, Hostos Community College

“¡Ya estoy harta! Really, I am simply fed up!” This was the sentiment voiced by a Hostos HEO when she was asked to join the informational picket line that took place on April 7 at our campus. And this is the same sentiment, filled with frustration and outrage, that is being echoed throughout the campus, especially since the announcement of the New York State budget earlier this month. The frustration and anger has reached a boiling point throughout the Hostos PSC membership and other constituencies of our college.

We have used that momentum to mobilize our chapter to keep fighting for fair funding for CUNY and for our contract, and to move toward the strike authorization vote. The executive committee of our chapter invited students, along with DC 37 and Teamsters members, to join us at the informational picket line: It is the same struggle, same fight! We planned this event with the leadership of a group of students that Joan Beckerman, an adjunct lecturer, and I have been meeting with for the past two months. They made signs, recruited other students to assist us in setting up, took pictures, sent tweets (I Will #DefendCUNY Because) and collected signatures supporting the faculty and staff’s right to a fair contract. (The Hostos PSC Twitter handle is: @Hostos_PSC.)

In the picket line we were energized with the creative chants from Berkis Cruz-Eusebio (HEO), while at the podium, members encouraged the crowd to keep up the fight. Afterward, PSC member activists visited departments, talking one on one with members, addressing questions regarding the strike authorization vote and getting more members to sign a pledge to vote yes.

On my way home I kept savoring one of the messages shared at the rally from an article written by Glenn Kissack: “Be realistic; demand the impossible.” Chancellor Milliken and Governor Cuomo: We are ready at Hostos!

Sigmund Shen

Associate Professor, English Department
PSC Chapter Chair, LaGuardia Community College

At LaGuardia, the strike authorization vote discussion has been a unifying experience, and an educational one. Many members who previously had not been as active in the union have spoken strongly in favor of strike authorization this year. Substantive union discussions at department meetings have become, if not quite yet “the new normal,” definitely widespread and commonplace.

Our connections with DC 37 members and CUNY students, both on the authorization vote and on more local issues, are stronger now than in any year I can remember since I started working here in 2004. Even members who have not yet been persuaded to vote yes are highly engaged in the conversation, raising important questions about tactics and law, the living history of the US labor movement and the meanings of “solidarity,” both in a union and in collective action. I have personally learned a lot from these conversations, and many people have stepped up to help build and lead the chapter. As in any family, people have not always agreed. But this conversation has absolutely brought us closer together as a chapter, and much of that additional strength will outlast the challenges we presently face.


Compiled by Shomial Ahmad

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