A blatant contract violation
Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez messed with the wrong union.
As the PSC continued its fight to force CUNY to pay the delayed across-the-board 2% increases, it learned on the evening before contractual equity increases were due that the Chancellor had also decided to delay those raises, despite having promised as recently as December to pay them on time. PSC had negotiated the equity raises for assistants to HEO effective February 1 and lecturers (including those in CLIP and CUNY Start) effective April 1. People in those classifications had been some of the lowest paid full-time workers in the bargaining unit.
The news was met with outrage, by the union, which had fought hard for the equity raises in the last round of contract negotiations.
“CUNY’s decision to withhold the raises is a betrayal of the 1,295 assistants to HEO, the 1,262 lecturers, and every member of the PSC. It is also a blatant breach of our contract,” PSC President Barbara Bowen and First Vice President Andrea Vásquez said in a statement.
The union took immediate action. More than 100 PSC members rallied outside of CUNY’s Midtown Manhattan office on February 15, demanding that the university pay workers their contractually due raises. Members also flooded the chancellor’s email inbox with demands to reinstate the pay raise. They also began planning a major escalation action for February 27 – a demonstration outside the chancellor’s house in Westchester County.
The intensifying union militancy forced the chancellor to back down from his indefensible position of denying the contractual raises. PSC was backed by numerous supporters. NYC labor leaders from every sector recognized the importance of the issue for all workers and signed a letter to the chancellor demanding that the raises be reinstated. And the Chief-Leader, a weekly civil service newspaper, said that wage deferrals at the city level have only occurred after both unions and the administration engaged in good-faith bargaining. The paper said that if the chancellor maintained his unilateral action, then “[he would be] risking a job action, one that should be backed by the entire city labor movement.”
In the days before the planned protest at the chancellor’s home, the administration rushed to come to an agreement with the union, finally buckling to the PSC demand to abide by the contract in the late hours of February 26.
Bowen and Vásquez said in a message to members: “This is a victory for all of us. Hundreds of members fought back fast and hard because we were offended that Matos Rodríguez would attack lower-paid employees and withhold raises explicitly bargained to address inequities of race and gender. And we came together from every part of the union because we were stunned that management thought it could shred our contract with impunity – and without even bothering to notify the affected workers! We fought back and we won.”
WE DESERVE MORE
Cindy Bink, the PSC chapter chair for HEOs, told Clarion, “I am grateful the university backed off their attempt to delay even the smallest of increases for our lowest paid HEOs. They deserve more. I am appalled that CUNY can simply ignore this and other contract agreements. We fought too hard for these gains. Living in New York City is still not cheap and there have been a number of HEOs concerned that utility bills and rent has increased once they began using their homes as full-time offices. Give us what we deserve.”
There is still a long way to go. The union continues to fight the administration’s unilateral delay of the across-the-board contractual raises, and the union is organizing in Albany against more cuts. The union continues to fight…raises, and the union is organizing in Albany not only to stop further cuts, but to increase funding for CUNY as a step towards achieving the New Deal for CUNY. The union leadership believes that the energy from this victory will inspire the membership onward in these other campaigns.
The PSC president and the first vice president added, “It should not have taken a protest at CUNY Central on Presidents’ Day, email messages from nearly 1,000 members, petitions from two different campuses, a letter to the chancellor signed by the city’s major labor leaders, intervention by elected officials, and a plan to demonstrate on the chancellor’s doorstep just to get CUNY to adhere to the contract and pay the equity raises. But the restoration of the equity raises was more than a defensive victory: it was proof that we are prepared to fight until we win.”