In a surprise move a day after its January 25 bargaining session with the PSC, CUNY management petitioned the New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to declare an impasse in contract negotiations between the two parties.
“If there is an impasse in contract negotiations, it has been created by management,” wrote PSC President Barbara Bowen in a message to members. After receiving an economic offer from CUNY on November 4, which included no retroactive salary increases for four of the six years PSC members have received no raises due to the lapsed contract – a 6 percent raise overall – the union presented a counteroffer on November 19. Instead of responding, CUNY, with no advance discussion, filed for the impasse declaration.
Bowen noted that in its statement on the impasse filing, CUNY appeared to try to lay blame on the union, despite the fact that management took five years to make an economic offer of any kind. CUNY General Counsel Fredrick P. Schaffer, the university’s vice chancellor for legal affairs, cited the PSC’s organizing for a strike authorization vote as a rationale for the impasse filing, even though no strike has been planned and such a vote is well within the bounds of the New York State Public Employees Fair Employment Act (known as the Taylor Law).
While the Taylor Law forbids public employees to strike, it does not carry penalties for a vote such as the one the PSC is organizing that would authorize the union’s Executive Council to call a strike, if determined to be necessary. In addition, the law governs other aspects of labor relations for public-sector workers, such as procedures for declaring and overcoming an impasse in contract negotiations.
After one of the parties petitions PERB for an impasse declaration, the board makes a determination as to whether an impasse has been reached. If PERB declares that the parties are indeed at an impasse, the Taylor Law governs the processes for parties to a collective bargaining agreement to seek mediation and arbitration of contract. The first step is for PERB to assign a mediator to assist the parties in their collective negotiations.
If mediation does not resolve the collective negotiations, PERB then appoints a fact-finding board, which has the power to make public recommendations for the resolution of the contract and to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.
After the fact-finding board makes its report, if the impasse continues, PERB has the authority to take steps it deems appropriate to resolve the dispute. These may include additional recommendations to those made in the fact-finding report, or providing voluntary arbitration for the parties. In the unlikely event that deliberations reach the stage of fact-finding and either CUNY or the PSC does not accept the recommendations of the fact-finding board, its report would be submitted to the CUNY Board of Trustees, which may take further action to reach an agreement.
While Bowen said that “the PSC is happy to work with an appropriate mediator if it will advance discussions,” she added: “the real problem is not mediation; it’s money.”
In a press statement she said, “Governor Andrew Cuomo has included $240 million for resolving CUNY contracts in his proposed budget. CUNY should join the union in fighting to ensure that those funds are part of an overall increase in public investment in CUNY.”