Enforcing the PSC contract
College administrations do not typically relent at the first stage of the grievance process, but this August the PSC won, or in grievance speak, received a remedy that the union sought in the Step One hearing. The victory: three City Tech adjuncts who were wrongfully given one-year with guidance appointments were given three-year appointments.
Carol Rial, a PSC adjunct grievance counselor, and adjunct lecturer at Hunter and Baruch Colleges, led the union’s case.
“Just by three brave souls speaking up and coming to us and really putting their stories on the line, it had a ripple effect to eight adjuncts,” said Carol Rial, the PSC adjunct grievance counselor who presented the case. The union had filed a class action over the same issue for all adjuncts in similar situations at City Tech. When the decision came, it was extended to them. “So that’s always thrilling to watch one person get something and then maybe a whole group. It just escalated from there.”
For the union’s contract enforcement team, pursuing this grievance meant collecting information, pouring through contract language and other agreements, looking at administration guidance and finding other members at the college who were affected by the same issue. In the case of the three adjuncts, they were up for renewal for their three-year appointments and instead received one-year with guidance appointments.
Rial’s argument was this: a one-year with guidance appointment is not an option when an adjunct is up for a three-year renewal. Rial used Appendix E of the PSC-CUNY contract, which deals specifically with multiyear appointments for teaching adjuncts, to support her claim.
“Rial is meticulous in her grievance work. She leaves no stone unturned in her advocacy for our members,” said Renée Lasher, PSC’s outgoing director of contract administration. At the PSC, there are more than two dozen grievance counselors who are trained in the intricacies of contract enforcement. Rial is part of a team of four who solely represent adjuncts. “She crafts her presentation carefully and maintains a laser focus on the primary issues and strongest arguments, so that CUNY’s labor designee cannot avoid addressing them head-on,” Lasher said.
The union stewardship structure also contributed to the positive outcome in this case. Rial learned about the issue with the three grievants through other PSC members who are trained in contract and adjunct issues, respectively, and who by coincidence teach in the same department as the affected adjuncts. Patricia Rudden, City Tech chapter grievance counselor, and Katie Albany, City Tech PSC adjunct liaison, immediately got in touch with Rial when they learned about the issue.
Albany recalled that the adjuncts each came to her separately, confused about why they did not receive their three-year appointments. Once the adjuncts approached her, she put them in touch with one another and with the PSC.
“If something does not sound right, they have to get right on it. There is a short window of opportunity for them to grieve,” said Albany, an adjunct lecturer in the English department at City Tech. A member has 30 working days to file a grievance from when a violation occurred or when they learned of a violation. “They have to reach out to see what can be done,” said Albany.
Getting right on it meant being in touch with Rial and Rudden. Rudden, a longtime professor in the City Tech English department, has served many times on that department’s appointment committee in the past. She’s a self-proclaimed “contract crusader,” she said, noting that she’s been a grievance counselor for the PSC for decades. Both her parents were grievance representatives at their unionized workplaces.
“Adjuncts need to assert their rights. [Adjuncts] are getting more and more of them. They’re getting more and more security,” said Rudden, an English professor who was once a CUNY adjunct. “They have to show that the university depends on them, and they are a vital part of it.”
Rial, who is also an adjunct lecturer at Hunter and Baruch Colleges, was able to build on her argument through Rudden’s experience serving on the Appointments Committee and Rial’s intricate knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement. According to the PSC-CUNY contract, a department personnel and budgeting committee can issue a one-year with guidance appointment in rare instances, but these one-year appointments should not be applied to three-year renewals.
On July 20, the union presented its case on the “improper, arbitrary and capricious one-year with guidance appointment in lieu of a subsequent three-year appointment,” and won. In mid-August, before the start of the academic year, City Tech issued its decision, and the three adjuncts named in the grievance and the other five adjuncts at City Tech who were affected by the issue, received three-year reappointment letters. (A related grievance on the comprehensive review process for three-year adjunct appointments is awaiting a Step Two decision. At Clarion publication date, a decision from CUNY Central had not been issued.)
It felt good to get a victory, Rial said, but because of the two-tier system at CUNY, she could not celebrate for too long.
“You can play a little music and dance around the living room, but you’ve got to get back to the calls and the emails and see what you can possibly file as a grievance always with an eye on winning on behalf of adjuncts,” Rial said.