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Home » Clarion » 2023 » December 2023 » CLTs honor chapter’s ‘unsung heroes’

CLTs honor chapter’s ‘unsung heroes’

Giving awards and seeking justice By ARI PAUL

Migdalia “Maggie” Perez, an adjunct CLT at City Tech, is one of this year’s winners. (Credit: Erik McGregor)

Migdalia “Maggie” Perez, an adjunct CLT at City Tech, is one of this year’s winners. (Credit: Erik McGregor)

They work in 150 departments and on every CUNY campus. Some have FDNY certifications; others deal with microorganisms. Some fix computers; others tune musical instruments or take care of film and video equipment. They teach faculty and staff how to use computer systems, and they order and maintain new equipment. They ensure that when students walk into a chemistry or biology lab, the beakers, test tubes, flasks and Bunsen burners are ready for them.

They’re the 900 full-time and part-time college laboratory technicians at CUNY. They’re critical workers on every campus. And on November 15, the CLT chapter held its Unity Day at the PSC’s office to celebrate its “Unsung Heroes,” CLTs who are recognized by their peers for going above and beyond the call of duty. The chapter recognized several dozen nominees and handed out awards to seven finalists, who were chosen by members of the CLT chapter. All nominees received a certificate from the chapter, and the winners received a $50 gift certificate.

SAYING THANKS

“This is to honor them and say ‘thank you’ for their hard work,” said Jeanette Batiz, the PSC chapter chair for CLTs, who hosted the event. “College laboratory technicians support our students, our faculty and our staff within our communities.”

The evening was a celebratory affair to be sure, but it took place within a political context. As Batiz, a chief CLT in the biological sciences department at Bronx Community College, explained, CLTs are among the lowest-paid CUNY professional staff in the PSC bargaining unit. “We’re underpaid,” she said. “Then we don’t get promoted. We could go 20-25 years and never get promoted from CLT to senior CLT.”

FRONTLINE WORKERS

Of course, some CLTs switch into higher education officer positions because there are more opportunities for advancement in those titles. However, full-time CLTs have statutory tenure, something they would lose if they moved into HEO titles. Another problem now facing the CLT chapter is that when CLTs leave the job, they often aren’t replaced.

In her remarks at the ceremony, Batiz said that in the early days of the COVID pandemic, while many CUNY workers were operating at home using Zoom, CLTs were often still on campuses, keeping vital systems operating and aiding in the physical transition to remote learning, all while taking a big risk during a health crisis that was still unfolding.

“We were the group that came back in [during] the pandemic. I don’t want anyone to forget that,” she said. “We became essential workers.”

Migdalia “Maggie” Perez, who has been an adjunct CLT in the communications and design department at City Tech for 10 years, was one of the nominees and award winners. A designer herself, Perez enjoys helping students, in part because she was once a City Tech student. “For me, an alum, City Tech is deep in my heart,” she said.

But Perez, who spent the early days of the COVID pandemic handing out laptops to students who were transitioning to remote education, is like many of her colleagues who believe CLTs are not fully appreciated. She said events like CLT Unity Day help to fix that problem. “We shouldn’t go unnoticed,” she said. “We work really hard and pour our soul into it.”

The real goal for CLTs, she said, was building a campaign for increasing pay, transitioning part-time positions to full-time positions and creating better promotional opportunities.

LASTING RECOGNITION

“It feels really good,” Perez said of her award, but added that CLTs “need to get the real thing,” as in material and contractual gains, not just the “paper and the frame,” she said gesturing to the certificates for the nominees.

Tomoko Hagane-Mullins, a senior CLT at Hunter College in the chemistry department, was another finalist this year, and like Perez, she became a CLT shortly after graduating from Hunter. Working on a CUNY campus notorious for its decrepit buildings requires her to often use her imagination to keep the chemistry labs going.

“We had a huge leak where we kept a kiddie pool for water collection. It was during a heavy rainstorm,” she recalled. “Dealing with the old infrastructure, it takes a lot of creativity to problem-solve that way and keep running the lab safely.”

Like her colleagues, she believes CUNY must invest more – not just in higher CLT salaries but in general resources for CLTs, as the workloads have ballooned.

The PSC is, indeed, fighting for an assortment of material gains for CLTs. In his address to the CLTs at the award ceremony, PSC President James Davis said the union’s contract bargaining agenda includes demands for equity raises for CLTs, on top of across-the-board raises, more promotional opportunities, and salary increases for CLTs with master’s degrees and PhDs. “It is eminently deserved,” Davis said.

RAISING AWARENESS

Gerarda Shields, the dean of technology and design at City Tech, spoke at the event. She explained how CLTs were pivotal workers in March of 2020 when the entire University had to suddenly switch its operations to a near fully remote setting. The CLTs, she said, understood what the transition meant for labs, computer systems and campus operations. “I owe everything to you,” Shields said.

Davis said that events like Unity Day were important because they raised awareness throughout the PSC about the importance of the work that CLTs do and why they are seeking certain demands at the bargaining table. “What you’ve done is you’ve educated our colleagues,” he said. “That has made our union stronger.”

The other winners were: James McNeil, Medgar Evers College; Denice Brown, Hostos Community College; Karen Manifold, York College; Dana Donovan, Kingsborough Community College; and Adam Michelman, Queens College.

THE HEROES

The other nominees were: Jeanette Batiz, Joanne Canales, Lourdes Rosario and Martha Sanchez of Bronx Community College; Mohamed Sofaini of Borough of Manhattan Community College; Edward Coppola, Isanna Agrest, Pontus Gunve and Stephen Keltner of Brooklyn College; Andrew Eng and Manal Abu-Shaheen of City College; Calvin Grace, Dimple Mirpuri, Jodi-Ann Douglas, John Robinson, Karen Neroulias, Peter Pineandi, Philippe Balan and Robert Mahalko of City Tech; Abraham Malz and Mitchell Lovell of the College of Staten Island; Julio Figueroa and Lee Jacob Hilado of Hostos Community College; Amy Jeu and Naitram Baboolall of Hunter College; Alfredo Cifuentes, Gary Vollo and Thomas Seymour of LaGuardia Community College; Alejandro Castro and Christina West of Lehman College; Rodger Phillips of Medgar Evers College; Aqsa Siddiqi, Justin Tricarico, Mustafa Kamal and Robert Lau of Queens College; Scott Underwood of Queensborough Community College; and Arijit Chatterjee, Frederick Samuels and Mohamed Jahed Sarwar of York College.

Perez said she believed that all CLTs are “unsung heroes” of a sort.

“I want to see everyone get what they deserve,” she said.


Published: December 21, 2023

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