Mike Fabricant being arrested during a civil disobedience event outside the New York Stock Exchange.
For Mike Fabricant, who stepped down from his role as PSC first vice president this spring, every role that he has assumed in his career – professor, union leader, community organizer, published writer – would have seemed impossible to his childhood self, a Brooklyn boy from a working-class family: his mother a waitress, his father an intermittently employed truck driver, both of whom never attended college.
Fabricant told Clarion, “The only thing that allowed me to imagine [a different future] was challenging myself to do the things necessary to take the next step.”
‘COLLEGE FOR NOTHING’
At around seven years old, Fabricant decided that he would go to college. It was his ticket out of poverty and a way in to the things he enjoyed, such as history, literature and taking care of others. While he didn’t have grand plans about what he would study or where he would go, his uncles talked about the “college for nothing,” tuition-free CUNY.
He didn’t attend CUNY. He received his bachelor’s in history at the University of Pittsburgh and his PhD in social welfare at Brandeis University, but CUNY was always a symbol for Fabricant, a “lighthouse,” he said, that showed him that there was a way for a kid like him.
Fabricant’s background informs his career. He began teaching at Hunter College in 1979, and he became active in the PSC in the late 1990s as the New Caucus was organizing at local chapters. When he first got involved with the union, he did so because of the students. As his involvement increased, his perspective evolved. He saw how intrinsically students’ learning conditions are connected to faculty and staff’s working conditions.
“The union has just been an enlarging experience,” Fabricant said. “I have gotten to visit every campus. I have gotten to know people from every part of the bargaining unit. I have gotten to understand the text and the subtext of our contract. I have had the privilege to shape a number of organizing campaigns with others.”
When he and other union activists organized the New Caucus slate at Hunter College, they thought they had no chance of winning a union election – but they did. He began as vice chair of that chapter and then steadily increased his commitment, from vice president of senior colleges to PSC treasurer to PSC first vice president. He served as a principal officer of the union for more than 10 years.
He recalled the early days of union involvement as “exhilarating,” with around 2,000 members showing up for a contract campaign rally. But he also recalls the grit, the day-to-day organizing that made contract wins possible, including junior faculty reassigned time, adjunct health insurance, advancement provisions for HEOs and paid office hours for adjuncts.
In the most recent contract campaign, where union pressure helped defeat Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $485 million dollar cut to CUNY in the state budget, Fabricant, who oversaw the union’s legislative work, knew a multipronged campaign was necessary, one that could gain the support of elected leaders and the larger community. It was during this campaign that CUNY Rising, a coalition of labor, community and student groups that campaign for adequate investment for the university, formed. Fabricant was instrumental in setting up the group.
“We don’t win big change unless we have powerful relations with community-based organizations and students,” Fabricant said. “It’s only by scaling that up, building these relationships and making affordable public higher education a citywide issue that we’re going to gain the power to win.”
Outside of the PSC, Fabricant has worked on local organizing efforts around housing and homelessness in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where he lives. He’s one of the founding members of Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless and other area groups focusing on affordable housing and social service.
PSC President Barbara Bowen said, “For Mike, the cornerstone of union work is building relationships, and he has spent almost two decades nurturing the relationships that contribute mightily to the PSC’s power. Mike embodies the word ‘loyalty.’ His fierce commitment to the people with whom he works, both inside and outside the union, has been essential to developing the CUNY Rising Alliance and to expanding the PSC’s influence in Albany. Every PSC member, whether they know Mike or not, has been the beneficiary of his devotion to a sense of what our union should be.”
While he’s no longer the first vice president at the PSC, he remains active with the union. He is an executive council member, a bargaining team member and the union’s legislative representative. He will continue to teach at Hunter.
Fabricant said, “It’s time for other people – the next generation – to have their good time of doing this work, putting their imprint on the union, the university [and] the larger city.”