CUNY and the Graduate Center (GC) violated a 2008 “side letter” agreement between the PSC and CUNY, which dictates the limits of graduate student worker contributions to the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP), an arbitrator has ruled.
As the PSC’s chapter at the GC explained, the union filed a contractual grievance after delegates had learned that CUNY was overcharging Graduate Center student workers who are enrolled in NYSHIP. The formal PSC-CUNY agreement on the matter mandates that graduate student workers pay 10% of the total cost of the plan for individuals, and 25% for additional costs with a family plan.
The PSC chapter learned that the administration was charging student workers above those rates after a student asked chapter leaders about their benefit costs, union sources said. The union’s victory in this dispute highlights how significant it can be when rank-and-file members question their administration and bring their concerns to their union chapter.
CUNY argued during the grievance and arbitration process that the wording of the side letter agreement was too ambiguous to show a violation.
In her January 30 decision, Arbitrator Ruth Moscovitch rejected the administration’s case that it was correctly passing on a similar increase as the SUNY plan.
“This is an agreement only between CUNY and the Union: No external entity has any influence or control over the eligibility requirements,” Moscovitch said. “And, Paragraph 5, the paragraph at issue here, refers only to CUNY’s obligations to the Union’s members. CUNY ‘will contribute’ specified percentages of the cost of the program. There is no reference here to any external party. Given this very clear structure and the plain language of the Side Letter, I have no alternative but to grant the Union’s grievance. There is no ambiguity in Paragraph 5 of the Side Letter: CUNY is required by that agreement to contribute 90%/75% of the cost of the program. When it failed to do so, it violated the Side Letter.”
Moscovitch added, “CUNY is ordered to reimburse those Union members who were required to contribute a higher percentage of the cost of health insurance than they were obligated to pay under the Side Letter. This award shall only cover the period of time consistent with the filing of this grievance on November 19, 2020. In addition, going forward CUNY is ordered to adhere to the cost sharing provision of the Side Letter.”
The decision will result in graduate student workers receiving refunds for being overcharged all this time, a true material victory for PSC members at the GC. The chapter estimates that members could see $150 a year in back pay (more for those with family plans), with the ruling mandating retroactive back pay to November 2020.
The PSC GC chapter recognizes this decision as a victory for graduate student workers, and a confirmation of how callous the administration can be.
“The fact that CUNY management was overcharging graduate students, some of the system’s lowest-paid workers, is egregious,” Zoe Hu, the PSC GC chapter chair, told Clarion. “The PSC’s grievance victory shows how much we can get done when members rally around an injustice and challenge it. One hundred fifty dollars may not seem like much to some, but for workers who get only $28,000 a year or less, it is very meaningful.”
Published: March 9, 2023