PSC members march up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan during this year’s NYC Labor Day Parade. (Credit: Clarence Elle-Rivera)
As we prepared this summer for an invigorating year ahead, the union’s principal leaders have enjoyed engaging members collectively in many of the meaningful ways that the pandemic made difficult if not impossible. Delegations of union members joined us at meetings with our national and state affiliates, the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers. Dozens of members marched up Fifth Avenue in the New York City Labor Day Parade and scores picnicked in Prospect Park to celebrate five decades of union work. The PSC is definitely on the move, especially during our 50th anniversary year.
We are excited by the opportunity to wage a strong contract campaign and grateful that so many members voiced their priorities in our contract survey and spring chapter meetings. Recent PSC contracts have pierced through the constraints of austerity to improve job security, wage equity and critical benefits, and we will build upon those breakthroughs. The principal officers and PSC vice presidents attended 25 meetings in April and May, listening to members about their concerns and aspirations for a new contract, in anticipation of the February 2023 expiration of our current contract. In these meetings and through survey responses, which drew 9,400 participants, members expressed varied and valid demands. We continue to solicit member input this fall through the efforts of PSC Campus Action Teams and elected chapter leaders, by discussing the survey results and formulating a bargaining agenda.
We have heard clearly the preeminent need for salary increases for all; the combination of high inflation and cost of living in New York City is pressing on our members. The bargaining team will develop demands around salary and other broad issues facing our members. In addition, the PSC Executive Council has formed four demand development committees that will support and advise the bargaining team. These committees will examine issues that our members consistently cite as important and will deepen members’ engagement further around these issues. They include: 1) work-life balance and professional respect, 2) educational technology and educational quality, 3) contingent and part-time work, 4) common good and health and safety. Each committee will also ask how the union’s commitments to advancing equity and combating institutional racism may be realized within their issue area. A union-wide virtual town hall on “Winning a Just Contract” is planned for the evening of Wednesday, October 26. I am confident that a sharp, ambitious bargaining agenda will emerge from this semester’s efforts, an agenda that every PSC member feels truly invested in supporting.
Our ability to win a just contract depends as much on our power as our persuasiveness. And our power comes from PSC members and CUNY students and communities. We saw this collective solidarity in the most recent state budget campaign: faculty and staff in every title and rank joined students to speak with one voice about the necessity for the New Deal for CUNY. We gathered in the streets and in the hallways and offices of the state capitol, and our efforts helped yield increased recurring funds of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars annually and $1 billion in new capital funds for CUNY.
MORE CUNY FUNDING
Fulfilling the entire New Deal for CUNY platform will require renewed engagement this year. That engagement must draw on our shared desire for a just contract. The more we win in the state budget and during the legislative session, the more resources are available for the New Deal for CUNY and for our contract. Through the concerted action of PSC members, the union recently won transformative provisions, including paid parental leave, adjunct health insurance, reduction in the full-time faculty teaching load and increased teaching adjunct salaries. Organizing together is our path to winning what we deserve in the next contract.
To be sure, the headwinds we face are formidable. The current inflation rate exceeds any in recent history, depressing our real wages. Mayor Eric Adams is threatening additional budget cuts, which, if enacted, will harm CUNY workers and students, especially at community colleges. Enrollment declines at several campuses have prompted belt-tightening measures, including class cancellations and adjunct layoffs. And the health risks of COVID-19 continue to require our vigilance and informed judgment, as the CUNY administration wavers between the conflicting guidance of city, state, and federal officials.
But let’s not forget the winds at our backs. I was reminded of the power of PSC collective action at a recent bill signing at Borough of Manhattan Community College. A number of us joined Governor Kathy Hochul and the bill’s cosponsors, State Senator Kevin Thomas and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, as Hochul signed into law a bill that expands the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to make many adjunct faculty in New York newly eligible. Building on years of advocacy and agitation from our members and elected leaders, this legislation recognizes the full-time work done by many so-called part-time faculty. Our efforts in the legislative arena matter. Our concerted actions in the streets and our chapter-building initiatives matter. Our excellence in supporting and educating CUNY students matters. And these endeavors intersect in extraordinary ways.
We have union shirts that say, “Everybody Loves Somebody at CUNY,” a slogan that resonates farther and more deeply than we may think. A 91-year-old retired Brooklyn teacher, waiting for coffee behind me at the AFT convention in Boston, read out loud the words on my PSC T-shirt and introduced herself. She proudly listed luminaries who had passed through her music classes over the decades – Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Judge Judy – but she saved her deepest admiration for the CUNY colleges that propel legions of New York City high school graduates to a better next stage of their lives.
Realizing the mission of the People’s University is not easy after years of austerity and as we confront challenges ahead, but we must remember that we have allies, even where we least expect them, and that most of all we have each other.
Published: September 27, 2022
Last Modified: November 9, 2022