Admin violates contract
The CUNY administration has informed the union that it will delay across-the-board 2% raises to bargaining unit members. The raises are mandated by the contract to go into effect November 15. Make no mistake: This is a contract violation.
PSC isn’t the first state union to face this problem – contractual raises due this April or later have been delayed for state-employee unions throughout New York State, with several unions, such as the Civil Service Employees Association and United University Professions at SUNY, experiencing multiple delays. These unions have not yet received their 2020 raises, union sources said. The PSC takes a principled stand: Even if the contract mandates a pay raise of just one cent, any delay in that payment is a breach of contract between the administration and the workers.
TAX THE RICH
PSC President Barbara Bowen put the problem into context: Rather than raise taxes on the wealthy to fund state services and education, the state is opting to rob public servants of the wages they are contractually owed. In CUNY’s case, the delay was ordered by the CUNY administration, not the governor, although it is in line with delays statewide. The delay at CUNY applies to employees on the city payroll, at community colleges, as well as state employees, at the senior colleges. There are small numbers of employees in other unions who were also due a November raise, and their raises have also been delayed.
“We’re in the position of subsidizing the rich,” Bowen said. “It’s money that we bargained for.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo and CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez are sending a clear message: They are willing to violate the PSC’s collective bargaining agreement and take money from workers’ paychecks. CUNY officials asserted in a meeting with PSC leaders in early December that the decision to delay members’ raises was part of an effort to manage the multimillion-dollar shortfall created by the governor’s “withholding” of 20% of state funding for CUNY since June. Bowen said, “It’s a political choice not to resist austerity and pass it on to us. We are lending money to CUNY, involuntarily.”
On an annual basis, a decrease of 20% in state funding would amount to about $230 million, CUNY officials said. By not paying PSC members’ raises, CUNY is “saving” about $3.66 million a month. But “saving” is the wrong term, Bowen said. Failing to honor the contract and implement a modest contractual increase costs CUNY faculty and staff at exactly the moment they may need the increase the most. “Our members have never worked harder for CUNY than in the past nine months,” said Bowen. “And how does CUNY repay us? By stiffing us of our raises.”
Losing a 2% raise is not trivial, union leaders said. For a PSC member earning $50,000 a year, the raise would amount to $1,000 a year, or about $83 a month. Many PSC members were counting on that money to pay overdue bills or help to support family members who have lost income during the pandemic.
CUNY officials told the PSC that the university intends to pay the full amounts owed retroactively, but they could not give an expected date. Nor could they give a date for implementation of the raise on an ongoing basis. When pressed by the union on whether members would receive interest on their involuntary loan to CUNY and New York State, the answer was no: The state and the city never pay interest on retroactive pay. The union has filed a class-action grievance about the contract violation.
PAIN TO COME?
Some members fear that the pay delay indicates that retrenchment at CUNY is down the road. However, Bowen has told members that there have been no known talks within the administration about pursuing the kind of devastating cutbacks that took place at CUNY in the 1990s.
“People are very upset and angry,” said Kathleen Offenholley, the PSC chapter chair at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Several faculty members noted that we have so many new administrators at BMCC – deans and vice presidents – and we don’t even know what they actually do. Meanwhile, those of us actually teaching students are being told we are not valued.”
Carol Huang, the PSC chapter chair at City College, said, “[The chancellor] signed the contract and ate his own words. Live up to your promise.”
James Davis, the PSC chapter chair at Brooklyn College, told Clarion, “Some people are budgeting around this 2% raise, and this is a real hardship. Others who may not feel it as forcefully still object to the principle of violating the collective bargaining agreement. And all to protect the super-wealthy from increased taxes.” The delay is especially hurtful to the union’s lowest-paid and part-time members.
“In terms of our confidence in the administration’s keeping its promises to us, and good faith, this doesn’t bode very well,” said Nathan Schrader, an adjunct lecturer in English at LaGuardia Community College. “It might not be a big deal to some people, but to me it makes a difference. I’m the primary earner in my household. My wife is waiting on immigration papers, so she can’t technically work. It’s my income that’s keeping us going here.”
Schrader, who leads the LaGuardia PSC chapter’s ad hoc committee on adjuncts, noted that the delay occurs at a time when many faculty members are taking on bigger workloads as a result of the pandemic. Faculty, both full-time and part-time, have reported rising class-size caps CUNY-wide. The administration has already laid off more than 2,000 adjunct faculty and staff members since the pandemic began. PSC pressure resulted in the rehiring of more than 700 of those adjuncts, but the union continues to fight every layoff.
“I don’t think the administration has ever given a thought to adjunct morale,” Schrader told Clarion. For many adjuncts, the situation is especially frustrating, as the spring 2021 pay rate will revert to the spring 2020 pay rate. The union explained that “adjuncts received a smaller increase from the first day of the semester,” and that their total earnings for the semester, including the 2% increase as of November 15, were divided evenly among their fall semester paychecks.
The union said, “Instead of leaving the higher rate in place for adjunct faculty and allowing them to continue being paid at this level, CUNY management decided to reduce adjunct faculty rates of pay to their level before the ‘smoothed out’ 2020 raise was implemented. As a result, the hourly rate for adjunct faculty will be lower in spring 2021 than in fall 2020. The smoothed-out rate for adjunct faculty will also be used for the winter intersession at most colleges, except at LaGuardia, Kingsborough and Guttman.”
Union members have already made their displeasure known to the chancellor by sending him letters demanding that the administration change course. “We will use every legal and contractual remedy available to push CUNY management to pay the full value of our raises and to take a public stand against underfunding,” Bowen said in a Deceember 15 letter to members. “Reversing management’s position of shifting costs onto workers and students during this crisis may require disruptive union-wide action. PSC members are preparing to be ready.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that the delay in raises for state unions is meant to address the budget shortfall caused by the pandemic and failure of the federal government to provide an adequate stimulus to the state. Numerous legislators, unions and community groups have called for higher taxes on the wealthiest.