Hundreds of union members protested in Foley Square on June 27.
Welcome, new members, and best wishes for the academic year to all. I hope you took time for rest and renewal over the summer. Time is a union issue – some would say the biggest union issue of all. Time for ourselves and for those we love is a provision won by the union and protected by our contract. It’s not a gift from the employer. In the austerity conditions under which we labor at CUNY, time for our own scholarly work or just for rest is one of our most important union protections. Claim it!
Something amazing happened in the PSC last year: 13,000 people reaffirmed their membership in the union. Defying well-funded and racist attacks on unions and working people, CUNY faculty and staff embraced our right to belong to a union. In our thousands we signed up to renew our commitment to be dues-paying PSC members. Let’s celebrate that choice and what it means in the current political moment. Let’s make this an important union year.
Start by taking a look at the photo on this page. It’s from the protest the PSC organized for all workers in New York City on the day the Supreme Court released the Janus decision, which “weaponized” the First Amendment against the rights of workers, as Justice Kagan wrote in her dissent. What is fascinating about that protest in Foley Square – which attracted nurses, construction workers, hotel workers, clerical workers and transit workers, along with hundreds of PSC members – is how it came, over the summer, to be the visual definition of union resilience.
All through the summer, and as recently as last week, photographs of our Foley Square rally, usually without indication that it was a PSC event, appeared in reports about the resurgence of the union movement in defiance of the Janus decision. (Visit the News page of the PSC website to see the entire list.) The New York Times used photographs of the event in three separate pieces, and similar photos appeared in the Guardian, CBS News, The American Prospect, Jacobin and many other publications. What does that tell us? First, that more unions should have been out demonstrating on that day so that all the photos would not have to come from one event! But more important, it tells us that unified, multi-worker, unafraid public demonstrations are a sign of hope. Readers are hungry for images of organized resistance to the destruction of the lives and power of ordinary people. Working people and progressives across the country have been energized by political candidates who represent a new progressive politics, but they also recognize that there is no progressive political change without mass movement.
PSC members have a chance to define mass action again on Thursday, September 27. We are taking our contract fight straight to the heart of political and financial power, to the heart of the class interests behind the Janus case and the underfunding of CUNY: Wall Street. I am asking you to be there. The PSC’s Foley Square demonstration in June, which was organized within hours of the Janus decision, made its own modest visual history. I believe we can make history again with a bigger action on September 27.
The demonstration will make visible and public our demand for a contract that supports us in the work of offering college education to the working class, the middle class and the poor of New York City. It will challenge the grossly unfair distribution of resources in this city and state, including the resource of college education, by demanding full funding of CUNY and our contract. It will call out the city’s billionaire class for engineering a tax structure that allows one of the city’s greatest assets, its public university, to remain sickeningly underfunded. And it will insist that those who teach and serve the working people of New York, its immigrants and its communities of color, must be paid a fair wage.
When the PSC demands salaries and working conditions that allow us to offer the best possible education at CUNY, we are taking a stand against the austerity policies of Wall Street and its supporters in elected office and the CUNY Board of Trustees. A massive union presence in the heart of the finance district will send a message that cannot be missed – and will demonstrate our collective resolve to the CUNY trustees and State and City governments.
The PSC bargaining team negotiated aggressively for a new contract throughout the summer and made good progress, as you’ll read in the report. We have presented deeply researched arguments for our needs – starting with a salary increase. We also argued strongly for tuition waivers for the children of full-time faculty and staff, for equity salary increases for the lowest-paid full-time positions, for many other improvements, and for our breakthrough demand: an increase in adjunct pay to $7K per course. Why would raising adjunct pay be a breakthrough – for all of us? Because allowing CUNY to pay an insulting, poverty-level wage to half of the teaching force shortchanges our students’ education, devalues the work each one of us does, and exerts downward pressure on all of our salaries. Funding for the increase in adjunct pay will require new investment, beyond the usual contract settlement, and that investment will benefit all of us. The September 27 rally will demand an alternative to zero-sum budgeting for CUNY and call on the trustees to have the backbone to demand new investment.
A FAIR OFFER
Significant progress has been made at the bargaining table, but CUNY has still not made an economic offer to the union. No agreements on the major issues of salary and other economic improvements can be reached until there is an offer on the table. The September 27 rally will demand an offer – and a fair one. I do not expect the current contract negotiations to take nearly as long the six years of the last round, because the political and economic circumstances are different, but we are now nine months without a contract. It’s time to increase public pressure.
The PSC’s long history with CUNY management, and with elected officials, has shown that contract settlements are reached only when the union exercises its unique capacity for collective action. State and City governments have tremendous power, and even the CUNY trustees have power, but only the union has the power of collective action. We need to use it now, as we used it to defy the naysayers in the last round and win back-pay, and as we used it to gather workers across the city in the resonant Foley Square protest against Janus.
You chose union membership. You chose the power of belonging. Choose to exercise that power on Thursday, September 27. I’ll see you on Wall Street.