President James Davis (center) leads a rally before a CUNY Board of Trustees Hearing at LaGuardia Community College. (Credit: Dave Sanders)
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson cried, “Show us the money”
That demand was also the message to Albany and CUNY from PSC members, who were joined by students, elected officials, fellow unionists and community supporters as they pushed for an increased investment in higher education. During Union Week, the first week in December, members from across CUNY participated in events intended to build rank-and-file power for the union’s upcoming state budget and contract bargaining campaigns.
For the second year in a row, the CUNY administration put forth a budget request that calls for significant increases in operating aid and capital funds, a step toward hiring more full-time faculty and staff as well as addressing maintenance needs on campuses. The request, which was approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees (BOT) in December, asks for additional operating funds of $339 million from Albany and $80 million from City Hall over the current budget, in addition to asking for $983 million for capital projects. In short, CUNY is asking for a 16% increase in state support and 13% in city support, as well as a tuition freeze.
The first big action of Union Week was at the December 5 CUNY Board of Trustees hearing at LaGuardia Community College, where PSC members partially praised the request, noting that it would address hiring and infrastructural needs at CUNY. The state budget will be finalized by April 1, the city budget will be finalized on July 1 and the current PSC-CUNY contract expires on February 28. Increased funding for CUNY from the city and state would also mean more money for across-the-board salary increases in the upcoming contract bargaining talks.
“I’m here to ask that you seize the opportunity in the coming budget cycle to build on this year’s encouraging gains and impress on elected officials how much more amazing CUNY could become with the proper resources,” PSC President James Davis said in his testimony to the BOT. “With those resources, CUNY can improve both access and quality. Students will return to our campuses in greater numbers and we, the faculty and staff, can offer an exceptional academic experience.”
In the last state budget, the union reported that CUNY took in $220 million more in operational funding, a historic increase thanks to PSC pressure on Albany.
Davis added, “In fact, it is not enough to approve this budget request, I urge you to push for every penny in it, publicly and relentlessly. Encourage the presidents to lobby for it, not only in meetings but in the media too.”
But the CUNY budget request, while robust compared to the paltry ones it made under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, is still not enough for CUNY’s current needs, more than a dozen PSC activists told the BOT.
“We have been underfunded for decades,” said Youngmin Seo, a university-wide officer on the PSC Executive Council, in an interview with Clarion. Seo added that the budget request “is not enough” because “inflation will eat up these increases.”
Members also cited a recent report in the New York Post that CUNY Chief Operating Officer Hector Batista “saw his salary go from $330,000 to $420,000 – a 27% increase” and that “Derek Davis, the senior vice counsel and general counsel who came to CUNY in 2019 from Harvard Law School, got a 30% bump, from $300,000 to $390,000.” If CUNY executives receive these raises, members told trustees, there is certainly enough money available to make CUNY tuition-free, increase faculty and staff pay beyond inflation and lift salaries for the lowest paid workers.
Throughout the week, PSC chapters across the university organized events to energize rank-and-file members for the upcoming spring semester campaigns. At Queens College (QC), more than a dozen PSC members wearing red attended an on-campus talk by CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Wendy Hensel to let her know that members want to see CUNY fight for a transformative budget. Karen Weingarten, an associate professor of English at the college, told Clarion that she told Hensel that system-wide budget constraints have failed to give “students the services they need to feel supported on campus,” where “getting responses from” key campus offices often “takes weeks and sometimes they don’t respond at all,” thus creating an “environment where students don’t feel welcomed and supported by the college.”
Union Week included chapter actions around the university, like this tabling event at Brooklyn College. (Credit: Dave Sanders)
Many chapters, including York College, held tabling events. The Brooklyn College chapter held a “beer and buttons” social event in addition to tabling on campus in order to meet faculty and staff. At the Baruch College chapter’s tabling event, more than 100 students, faculty and staff stopped by to support the chapter and PSC efforts. Michele Doney, director of Baruch’s Student Academic Consulting Center, came to the table and expressed her support for protecting remote work opportunities, because without them, she said, she’d lose talented higher education officers (HEOs) who are committed to CUNY’s mission. “I know these HEOs,” Doney said. “[They] work through lunch. They eat lunch at their desks. They’re really dedicated people.”
Indeed, preserving and improving remote and flexible work options is a major bargaining objective for many PSC members, including HEOs, college laboratory technicians and library faculty members.
“As research studies have repeatedly shown, when workers feel respected and have a voice and decision-making role in their work lives, morale is lifted and performance improves,” PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez said in her BOT testimony. “For current and future employees, it is time to reach a permanent agreement on the features of the new work environment that must include provisions for flexible and partially remote work.”
The week of action culminated in a press conference outside Hostos Community College on December 8. Pointing to the bridge connecting the college’s two main buildings, PSC Hostos Chapter Chair Craig Bernardini said that the school was “meant to be a bridge to our communities,” and that “we must maintain those bridges.”
Along with students and other supporters, including Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, the union said the state had done the right thing by increasing its contribution to CUNY in the last budget cycle.
“It’s a down payment,” Davis said. “And this year we need to take it all the way across the finish line.”
Shomial Ahmad contributed additional reporting to this story.
Published: January 9, 2023
Last Modified: January 12, 2023