Activists leading the union
James Davis – who has served as an Executive Council member, chapter chair, delegate and all-around union activist – has been elected president of the PSC in an uncontested election.
Andrea Vásquez was reelected as first vice president. Felicia Wharton, who served as chapter chair of the Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center, was elected treasurer and Penny Lewis, who previously served as the union’s vice president for the senior colleges, was elected secretary.
Davis is a professor of English at Brooklyn College and has been with the college since 2003. He has been a consistent leader for the union, engaging in political fights and leading rallies from Albany to the New York City Council, while also working at the grassroots level to develop the Brooklyn College chapter as one of the most organized and active in the union. He organized against tuition hikes and for keeping military recruiters off campus. He said that he hopes to continue to push for the New Deal for CUNY and fight for safety during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“Some of our priorities must be won at the bargaining table and I am eager to build in the next round of negotiations on the gains we achieved in past contracts,” Davis said. “Others can be pursued outside the contract, and the New Deal for CUNY represents a critical – and winnable – set of priorities: a legislative campaign for common-good demands.
“The many challenges of the past year compelled us to broaden and deepen our work as a union. I’m looking to enhance the PSC’s relationship with our state and national education affiliates, labor organizations and coalition partners in the CUNY Rising Alliance. Out of the violence and distress of the past year, new alignments and movements have emerged that present real openings for an active PSC to contest the austerity politics that have punished the communities we serve and to achieve a flourishing public university and CUNY workforce,” said Davis.
For the last three years, Vásquez, who previously served on the Executive Council and as the chapter chair for HEOs, has served in the union’s Number Two position, playing a key role in political negotiations between the union and Albany and in forming progressive political alliances to demand fair funding for CUNY. She has also been a central figure in retaining membership after the anti-union Janus Supreme Court decision, which barred public-sector unions from collecting agency shop fees.
“Here we are, still in the midst of a global pandemic and having to battle on every front for the health, rights and benefits of our members and our students,” she said. “I’m eager to work with members about what we can do, but I also seek to expand our legislative and coalition work. We cannot build the power we need if we don’t have strong student, community and union allies… and a changed Albany. The New Deal for CUNY legislation made a splash this year and it should be at the core of our vision and of our coalition work next year. We won some new taxes on the wealthy, but there’s a long way to go for us to be able to transform CUNY,” said Vásquez.
Wharton, a lecturer at SUNY Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) who has also taught mathematics at City Tech, has studied the challenges students and teachers face in adult mathematics education. Wharton brings a unique perspective to the PSC leadership, as she will be the first member from an EOC chapter to serve as a principal officer. She continues the PSC tradition of having a trained mathematician oversee the union’s finances.
“As a member of an EOC unit, I became intrigued by the supplemental agreement in the PSC-CUNY collective bargaining agreement covering the four EOCs: Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens. In the summer of 2013, I took a giant leap, formed a slate, and reactivated the chapter at BEOC,” Wharton said. “As the incoming treasurer, my focus is to continue to fight for equity and fair pay, defend our contractual agreement, demand a quality education for CUNY students, and continue to align the union’s financial resources to our mission: [to] benefit members and [union] priorities. As we stand together as one – and no longer isolated units – we have the power to enact change.”
Lewis, an associate professor of labor studies at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, has been a CUNY activist since her student days at the Graduate Center. She previously served on contract bargaining committees, and her current research focuses on progressive social movements. She hopes to bring her experience as a worker educator to her new role.
“I believe that making strong unions is the most essential work we can do to redress our society’s fundamental power imbalances, direct resources equitably and create democracy,” she said.
“There are a number of areas I hope to focus and work on in this new role, and space allows for a few to be named here: strategic planning; cross-title solidarity; strong chapters, and a focus on the nuts and bolts of local organizing; internal education and communication; and solidarity with students, our communities and labor. To me, these are among the essential ingredients for us to realize our ambitious vision of full funding and an excellent and free CUNY for our students, as well as our specific goals of safety in our return, an enforced contract today and a strong contract in 2023.”