They have led digital organizing campaigns, built coalitions around affordable housing and directed election campaigns for national political candidates. These are some of the accomplishments of the newly hired PSC staff, who will be strengthening the union’s power on campus and throughout the city.
“I’m definitely excited to see what we can build together,” said Rico Doan, the PSC’s new organizing director. Previously, Doan organized teachers, faculty and staff with the American Federation of Teachers in Washington state. He went on to organize grocery store, retail, health care, meatpacking and cannabis workers at the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 in Washington.
DEDICATED TO CUNY
Doan joins several new hires at the PSC. Also new to their roles are Denise Poché-Jetter, director of human resources and operations; Ava Farkas, coordinator of organizing and coalitions; and Marwa Atef Mohamed Amer and Moses Merisier, two new full-time organizers.
“The PSC and our members are really fortunate to have such an outstanding group of new staff members. They have already begun to demonstrate how devoted they are to our struggle and how eager they are to bring their tremendous skills and experience to bear,” said PSC President James Davis. “As we gear up for a contract campaign and a budget battle simultaneously, our most recent staff additions offer an enormous boost.”
For Doan, his organizing work is personal. His father was a stocker at a grocery store when he first immigrated to the US from Vietnam. Doan, who received a public higher education, says CUNY’s mission resonates with him.
“Everybody knows somebody who went to CUNY,” Doan said. “[CUNY’s] history is important to me. Making education accessible to people from all communities is really important , and some of the scholars that have most impacted my learning and growth over the years taught and researched at CUNY.”
In Washington, he was a part of a contract campaign that won “real life-changing money” during the pandemic for some of the lowest-paid workers in the unit that he was organizing. These grocery store workers were making minimum wage and got $7 to $9 per hour raises once a new contract went into effect by getting reclassified. There were other wins for the union, too, including secure scheduling and increased pension contributions.
“It was really a perfect storm of organizing,” said Doan, recalling how workers distributed bargaining surveys, signed up new members, trained members on their rights, recruited shop stewards and trained contract action teams. The tactics to build member organizers happened both in-person and virtually.
“We have to chart a new course forward and take stock of the fact that we have to do things in new ways, and digital organizing is one of those news spaces,” said Doan, who was the digital director at UFCW 3000 and joined the organization right around the beginning of the pandemic. “Because there’s no going back to ‘normal.’”
Doan now leads a growing PSC Organizing Department with two new full-time PSC organizers. One of them is Moses Merisier, who has worked at the PSC for more than a decade, previously helping the organizing, communications and legislation departments with their work, including updating the organizer database.
Ava Farkas has taken on a role at the PSC as the coordinator of organizing and coalitions, where, in addition to her PSC organizing assignments, she will help bolster the union’s relationships with community-based allies.
Farkas was the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants’ rights membership organization and a lead organizer on the livable wage campaign at the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
“Groups want to come together around a visionary and bold idea for change, whether it’s reimagining how development happens in the Bronx, public ownership of space in your community, or a livable wage. You have to put out an ambitious demand that speaks to people’s lives,” Farkas said, invoking the PSC’s commitment to social justice unionism. “The PSC’s vision around a New Deal for CUNY is a really good example of fighting for a vision that will not only benefit faculty and staff but will transform the lives of students.”
For Merisier, becoming a full-time organizer was an exciting new step in his and his family’s CUNY history.
“My mother went to City College. I graduated from Kingsborough and Brooklyn College. I’ve worked at the PSC for more than a decade,” Merisier said. “As an organizer I know the importance in identifying talent, providing them with the resources that they need and helping them build the confidence to take on new roles. That’s what builds the workplace, and that’s what creates a better future.”
Joining Merisier in the Organizing Department is another Brooklyn College alumnus. Amer, who most recently worked as a project manager and archivist at the PSC. She is a new full-time organizer with a background in academic labor organizing. She was involved in graduate employee organizing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and she served on that union’s bargaining team.
“My commitment to the PSC is both genuine and deeply personal. I graduated from Brooklyn College. As a first-generation college student, I attended rallies to demand better funding and I learned from faculty, adjuncts and staff about the challenges they face. I’ve also worked as a teaching assistant, instructor and an academic advisor and mentor to undergraduate students of color. I acutely know both the pride and discomfort of what it means to work at a publicly underfunded university,” Amer said. “I am eager to step into this role and be a fierce advocate for PSC members. Our members deserve it. CUNY students deserve it.”
Poché-Jetter, PSC’s new director of human resources and operations, is no stranger to the union. She was a member when she taught as an adjunct lecturer in cognitive psychology at Hunter College. She has also worked as a program director at the Performance Space New York, a senior analyst at the City’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program and a deputy campaign manager for US Congressman Major Owens, who served in Congress for more than two decades. One string that connects her decades of professional experience is building organizational systems.
“I’m a very systems-oriented person,” Poché-Jetter said. “Systems really mean policy and protocol, figuring out the most effective and efficient and also humane way to execute policy and [how] to make an organization fully functional so that it has the greatest capacity possible to do things out in the world.”
Poché-Jetter recalled that when she taught at Hunter College, her students really motivated her to become a better teacher. She believes strongly in CUNY’s mission, especially in increasing access for working-class, nontraditional and adult students.
“The confidence that comes from going through this exercise of sitting in a classroom and thinking and reporting on your insights, I think everybody deserves that opportunity,” she said.
Published: March 9, 2023