An equity contract
With 86 percent voting in the affirmative, members voted to ratify a memorandum of agreement with CUNY that will lift across-the-board pay for everyone by 10.4 percent, substantially increase pay for adjunct instructors, grant equity raises to some of the lowest-paid full-time titles, and address important non-economic issues such as new language regarding observation of online courses. Some 15,976 PSC members, or 75 percent of those eligible, participated in the vote, for the highest ratification turnout in the union’s history.
A UNION WIN
PSC President Barbara Bowen said: “The PSC’s ability to win salary increases for all, together with increases for adjunct faculty averaging 45 percent and as high as 71 percent, should give us confidence in our ability to demand and accomplish even more. At this moment of rising labor power nationally – a moment from which the PSC benefited and to which our contract contributes – we are in a strong position to take on new challenges.”
From the moment the delegate assembly voted to send the MOA to the membership to the last vote cast before midnight on November 26, the union members’ outreach and debate on the ratification process demonstrated the breadth of the union democracy that defines the PSC. Chapters across the five boroughs held meetings to discuss and debate the provisions of the deal, with close to 30 campus meetings crammed into a period of three weeks. Activists and staff phone-banked, texted and did door-to-door conversations on campuses to ensure that every member in the bargaining unit had the information they needed and the opportunity to vote on the contract.
The effort to win a good contract began two years ago and involved an ambitious set of demands; the resulting contract is a complex package. Many of the new provisions are, without question, a departure from the past. All adjunct faculty who teach courses of three hours or more will be paid for and be responsible for weekly office hours; and, by the end of the contract, most adjunct faculty will no longer be on salary steps. Instead, they will be on new, higher single rates of pay per title, with the Adjunct Lecturer minimum at $5,500 for a three-credit course. These and other new provisions raised lots of questions that led to lots of discussion.
The plight of low-paid adjuncts in America is a much-talked-about issue nationwide, and the PSC contract, with the gains it makes for teaching adjuncts, is no ordinary labor deal. The local and national press covered the agreement between the union and CUNY.
“[The MOA will] be good for CUNY’s predominantly low-income learners, who will benefit from a more stable, more attentive teaching corps that’s less likely to be rushing to second and third jobs to pay the rent… Adjuncts now handle more than 60 percent of the coursework at the system’s 11 four-year senior colleges, and about half of it at the seven two-year community colleges,” said the editorial board of the New York Daily News.
And the Chief-Leader’s editorial on the contract said, “[T]his contract went a long way toward meeting the union’s goals….The strides made on fair compensation justified Ms. Bowen’s declaration that the deal looms as ‘of national importance in higher education.’”
Now comes the next phase of the union’s fight: implementing the agreement and making sure that it is respected by management on every campus. First, the CUNY Board of Trustees must vote to give formal approval to the contract, as they are expected to do at their December 16 meeting. Then, the union will campaign to ensure that pay raises are implemented promptly, that members receive the back pay they are entitled to quickly and that new gains are respected on campuses. The adjunct raises, for example, include one paid office hour for each three-, four-, or five-hour course starting Spring 2020. The union will work with departments to ensure that expectations for the office hour are consistent with the language of the MOA and with departmental practices for full-time faculty.
“I spoke to several hundred members at meetings leading up to the ratification vote, and the other officers spoke to hundreds more,” Bowen commented. “The overriding message we heard, regardless of members’ position on the contract, was that PSC members are prepared to fight for their vision of what New York City’s public university should be. Winning this contract was a major part of the fight, but there is much more to be done – and a new phase of our work, especially for full public funding for CUNY, starts now.”