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Home » Clarion » 2020 » March 2020 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Divesting from fossil fuels

PSC members marched in a climate rally in Manhattan in the fall.

In response to a multiyear campaign by #DivestNY, in which the PSC Environmental Justice Working Group participated, the City of New York committed to divesting fossil fuel stocks from three of their largest pension funds. We need to help our NYSUT colleagues push the New York State pension funds to follow suit and demand that TIAA-CREF offer our members a fossil fuel-free fund for their investments.

The PSC has posted two petitions for members to sign. The Delegate Assembly passed a resolution in 2019 demanding divestment and fossil fuel-free TIAA funds (a copy of which can also be found at the petition page), and now you can add your voice to the call. Sign whichever petition applies to you.

Continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies when their business model is tied to burning fuels is unethical, and as governments, companies, and consumers all realize the urgency of the climate change threat, fossil fuels will lose value and some will have to be stranded completely, making fossil fuel companies overvalued right now.

This understanding has already begun to spread in the financial industry, as the energy sector has been the weakest performer in recent years. Analysis from the London School of Economics and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis have each shown that coal, oil, and gas are bad long-term investments. Corporate Knights reported that “The New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) would be an estimated $22.2 billion richer had it decided to divest its fossil fuel stocks ten years ago.” Some universities have divested their endowments or their employees’ pension funds (notably the entire University of California system) on financial as well as moral grounds. The CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, announced a phaseout of their investments in coal and other risky fuels, purely based on their fiduciary duty.

Those of us with TIAA-CREF investments should be offered a plan that contains no fossil fuel stocks or those supporting this harmful industry.

Ross Kennedy-Shaffer Pinkerton
Hunter College High School

The writer of the above is a member of the PSC Environmental Justice Working Group.

Editor’s note: PSC’s delegation to the 2019 NYSUT annual convention brought resolutions calling for divestment of TRS from fossil fuels and for a fossil-fuel-free option in TIAA-CREF, but the resolutions were voted down. Revised versions of the resolutions, addressing some concerns raised by delegates last year about fiduciary responsibility, will be on the floor at the 2020 NYSUT convention in May.

Labor for Medicare for All

One of the challenges for a labor movement worth its name is to represent and fight for the interests of all working people and not just those of its members. The argumentation that some Democrats, like Pete Buttigieg, have used against Medicare for All is destructive for labor, because it encourages the view of unionized workers as a special-interest group, which has supposedly used its political clout to secure privileges that most working people in the United States could not dream of.

The inability of American unions after World War II to gain a comprehensive national welfare state covering everyone, whether a union member or not, led to a parallel, ‘privatized,’ welfare state, which has created a wedge between unionized and non-unionized workers. In addition to failing to cover all American workers, this second-best solution has also proven precarious, even for covered workers, who may only find at the time of their greatest need that they are not as covered by their private, for-profit insurance as they thought they were.

The idea of anything short of a truly universal Medicare for All program is also problematic because, as students of welfare states know, the more universal social benefits are, the stronger their support among the population becomes and the less vulnerable they are to future reversals. This is why even very conservative Republicans, such as George W. Bush, have had difficulty privatizing truly universal programs, like Social Security, while non-universal welfare programs catering to low-income Americans have again and again been cut by Republicans and “centrist” Democrats alike.

Buttigieg’s preferred alternative to Medicare for All is consistent with his party’s long-standing complicity with and implementation of austerity. As such, it does not do labor unions a favor. Any gains unions have historically made through agitation and collective bargaining are much more precarious and reversible than the gains that would be conferred upon them by a genuinely universal, and thus politically more sustainable, welfare state.

Costas Panayotakis
City Tech

UCSC solidarity

New updates are released daily regarding the wildcat graduate workers’ strike at University of California, Santa Cruz, members of UAW Local 2865. Strikers, defying the no-strike clause in their union contract, are demanding a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of $1,412 per month to offset extremely high rents in the area that often consume 60% of workers’ regular income and compel them to live in cramped, shared living situations. The strike began as a grade action in December, and the university system president has just fired 54 graduate students who refused to comply with grade submissions from the fall.

The picket line has been described as joyful, communal and hopeful; yet 17 protesters have been arrested and suspended, and some were even assaulted by the police. Because of the no-strike clause in the contract, protesters lack the legal protections of a strike fund or legal aid. Yet over $100,000 has been raised online, including from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Under the current system-wide labor contract, graduate workers make $2,400 pretaxes per month, excluding the summer months. The University of California has just agreed to give a $2,500 annual housing stipend to all MA and PhD students at Santa Cruz, removing the previous “needs-based” qualification. But this, too, strikers respond, is not enough.

The wildcat strike is receiving broader national attention, with solidarity strikes promised from faculty and graduate workers at UCLA, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Davis. The strike has been featured in such high-profile publications such as Mother Jones, Teen Vogue and the Guardian. UCSC administration claims the undergraduate experience will be seriously harmed by the withholding of grades, but over 1,600 undergraduates have signed an online petition insisting the strike is not harming their financial aid and pledging solidarity with workers. Full-time faculty and staff, too, have voted in favor of the graduate workers’ COLA demands.

UCSC’s unprecedented strike could lead to more robust funding of public education in California and beyond, and an elevation of the needs of the rank and file. These issues will surely impact CUNY as we face more austerity and defunding with the current implementation of a new woefully inadequate contract. The wildcat strike shows us that action rooted in rank-and-file organization, often in opposition to union leadership, truly gets the goods. The PSC would do well to pay attention.

Boyda Johnstone
Borough of Manhattan Community College

President Bowen responds: Thank you for raising the critical issue of the UC graduate employee strike. The PSC has sent a public letter to the UCSC administration condemning the firing of 54 striking graduate employees on February 28. It was rank-and-file action that gave the PSC the power to win our most recent contract, organized in more than a year of public demonstrations and following a vote to support the leadership’s call to authorize a strike in the previous round. The new contract is fully funded at the community colleges such as BMCC, and full funding for the contract is included in the city’s financial plan for the next four years. Of course the contract is not adequate to the vast need we have at CUNY, but it’s worth pointing out that it provided annual salary increases, maintained premium-free health insurance, added two years of free tuition for graduate employees, and raised pay for 12,000 adjunct faculty by an average of 45%. That’s why it had the overwhelming support of the rank and file of the PSC in ratification.

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