The PSC and CUNY have agreed to extend the remote work agreement, from the end of August to the end of the calendar year. The agreement, pertains to certain PSC titles, including higher education officer (HEO), college laboratory technician (CLT), non-teaching adjunct (NTA) and librarian titles. There will be no changes to the agreement, union officials said. (The current remote work agreement can be read at tinyurl.com/CUNY-remote-work-agreement.)
“In the coming months, we will continue negotiations with CUNY to strengthen the agreement for our members and, when possible, to make partial remote work a more permanent feature of our work lives,” PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez said in a July 29 email to members. “Having witnessed and experienced the extraordinary commitment, flexibility and expanding skills of professional staff and library faculty during the pandemic, it is clear that, for a host of reasons, some remote work is possible and is beneficial to all.”
She added, “We urge supervisors to make every effort to meet the needs and requests of members.”
For many PSC members, flexible work schedules and remote work have been vital in terms of protecting their health, but some members say more can be done at CUNY to protect both workers and students.
“For those of us who use public transit, coming to campus less often definitely decreases our risk of COVID exposure,” said Nancy Foasberg, a humanities librarian at Queens College. “As for what more can and should be done, the easy and obvious thing is to reinstate mask mandates. As masks are currently optional, I’m seeing a lot of students and even some colleagues going unmasked in the building. As the semester begins, it’s going to be more difficult to keep my distance from them. I’d strongly support an indoor mask mandate and am frustrated by CUNY’s insistence that masking is a personal choice.”
This issue is especially concerning for library faculty, according to Ellen Sexton, a media librarian at John Jay College, because there has been “a gross disparity between library and non-library faculty in the requirements to be on campus.”
“I hope that the [remote work agreement] is permanently codified in our new contract,” Sexton said. “Library faculty, pre-COVID, worked five full days a week on campus. The chancellor is now permitting us to spend three out of 10 workdays off campus, which I welcome, as a fair amount of my day-to-day work is computer-based and can be done just as well on my home computer as on my work PC.”
Many CUNY workers have noted that after more than two years of remote work their workplaces can easily adapt to hybrid schedules. For many PSC members, the remote work agreement is a starting point to create new flexible schedules that will benefit workers, while ensuring students get everything they need from the classroom to the counseling services.
“The remote work agreement is an important tool in HEO and other nonteaching titles’ working lives. We have demonstrated that we can do our jobs, and do them well, with workplace location freedom,” said Nancy Silverman, a program liaison to the provost at the Graduate Center. “We are the best informed about what work requires being on site and what can be done from home. Instead of mandates from management…we, in agreement with supervisors, must be allowed to craft a workplace schedule, which allows for flexibility and the real situation of our jobs. And to ensure fairness, agreements about remote work must be contractual and able to be grieved.”
HEOs and others have complained over the course of the pandemic that in-person work often requires them to simply sit in an office and perform virtual tasks like participating in Zoom meetings all day. These tasks could easily be done remotely, at least for part of the week. “A flexible work option is currently a top priority for many HEOs,” said Justyna Jagielnicka, a College Discovery program counselor at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Professional staff have been delivering remote services to students since the Spring 2020 semester. The right to make agreements with supervisors to work remotely for a portion of our work time allows us to maintain a work-life balance while delivering quality of care to our students.”
Amy Jeu, who serves as a cross-campus officer on the PSC Executive Council and is a CLT in the department of geography and environmental science at Hunter College, said, “In the face of new highly transmittable infectious diseases, such as monkeypox and tomato flu, we are pleased the PSC was able to negotiate an extension of the remote work agreement with CUNY to reduce density on campuses.” She added that she hopes “remote work will be a permanent feature in the next contract.”
Published: September 29, 2022 | Last Modified: November 9, 2022