The fight for a fair contract
Members started the contract campaign merely protesting outside Baruch College. By December 2018, members were getting arrested protesting austerity, standing where they had been a year earlier.
The campaign for a just contract, begun in 2017 as the last contract expired, has used a variety of tactics to pressure Albany, the administration and the CUNY Board of Trustees to meet the needs of faculty, staff and students. There have been numerous bargaining sessions with CUNY, where the union has outlined its demands.
PSC actions have served not just to put pressure on management, but also to spread the word about the effects of austerity at CUNY to the public and, above all, to organize the rank and file for a militant struggle for a fair contract. What follows are some of the highlights in the PSC contract campaign this past year.
CONTRACT CAMPAIGN LAUNCH RALLY
DECEMBER 4, 2017
Days after the previous contract expired, hundreds of people – faculty, staff, students and labor allies – marched in the streets of Midtown Manhattan from the Graduate Center to Baruch College. At the night-time rally, members held illuminated signs demanding “Economic Justice,” “CUNY needs a raise” and “$7K for Adjuncts.”
PSC President Barbara Bowen addressed members at the rally and said that the underfunding of CUNY exists because of a lack of political will: “It is the result of an active agenda … to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich and to deny a top-rate college education to the people we teach,” she said. “The PSC has changed political will before and we can do it again.”
HIGHER EDUCATION ACTION DAY, ALBANY
FEBRUARY 28, 2018
The 2018 state budget for public higher education instruction in the state – both at CUNY and SUNY – was essentially flat. While there was a nearly $98 million increase in funding for senior colleges, much of the money came from increased tuition and some will go to cover existing fringe benefits.
More than 500 students, faculty and staff pounded the floors of the State Capitol to meet with lawmakers and urge them to invest in the state’s future.
More students are attending CUNY. In the Fall of 2017, applications were up by 11 percent and CUNY enrolled its largest-ever freshman class. While these numbers should be celebrated, PSC leaders stressed that access does not equal success.
The PSC’s message: the state should invest in higher education so students learn in safe – not crumbling– buildings. Adjunct faculty should be paid livable wages and there should be enough essential courses offered so students can graduate on time.
STOCK BUY BACK TAX PROTEST, NY STOCK EXCHANGE
MARCH 9, 2018
While everyday New Yorkers pay sales tax on toothpaste and bottled water, corporations legally skirt paying any taxes when they use their Trump administration windfall from federal tax cuts to buy back their own stocks. PSC members also protested the Trump corporate tax cuts.
A coalition of groups, including the PSC, the Patriotic Millionaires and the “Nuns on the bus” contingent of the NYS Council of Churches demanded the implementation of a Stock Buyback Transfer Tax. The tax would be small, a 0.5 percent tax. But the revenue could be great, an estimated $2 billion a year.
Rather than lining the gilded pockets of shareholders, that money could go toward affordable housing, healthcare and quality education from kindergarten to college.
$7K ADVOCACY DAY IN ALBANY
APRIL 24, 2018
The signature contract demand is simple and bold. Wearing red $7K T-shirts and holding $7K posters, nearly 100 PSC members crowded onto the “million dollar staircase” in the State Capitol to press for the issue.
Adjuncts, full-timers and lawmakers stood in solidarity. The transformational contract demand is for $7K per course for adjuncts, more than double the current starting pay.
PSC members told elected officials how their hardships and poverty-pay have shortchanged students and diminished the influence of CUNY. Adjuncts do more than just teach in the classroom, they said, adjuncts spend hours answering emails, writing recommendations and grading papers.
Susan Fountain, an adjunct professor at the School of Professional Studies, told lawmakers one of the best parts of her job is teaching adult students who did not have a chance to complete their degrees. Many of them are civil servants. But a pain sets in, she said, when she realizes that even though she’s the teacher, she’s probably the lowest-paid person in the room. “I can forget about that when I’m teaching,” Fountain said. “But it’s hard to forget when the class ends.”
CUNY BOARD OF TRUSTEES HEARING
HOSTOS COMMUNITY COLLEGE
JUNE 18, 2018
In testimony, members hammered home the point that raises for CUNY faculty and staff were not a zero-sum game, where gains for workers should come at the expense of campus programs. The situation was dire, they said, especially for adjuncts
Camilo Almonacid, who teaches theater at Hostos Community College, spoke about having to mop floors at a nonprofit arts group in order to make up for income he lost when one of his classes was cut at the last minute.
WALL STREET RALLY
SEPTEMBER 27, 2018
The demonstration began outside the New York Stock Exchange and members marched to the Financial District office of CUNY Board of Trustees Chair Bill Thompson. The timing of the rally wasn’t accidental. It took place on the seventh anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Six hundred people attended.
Inequality between the wealth in the financial district and the constant scarcity for a high-quality education at CUNY... How $7K for adjuncts would structurally change the nature of the CUNY work force... How CUNY has recently imposed a 2 percent cut at senior colleges while costs continue to increase... How CLTs – some working in their jobs for decades – can’t get promoted... These were some of the critical issues that PSC members raised. Despite all of these challenges and the existential threat of an anti-union Supreme Court decision in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, union leaders said that membership is at a high.
“Our commitment is larger than ever. Our unity is larger than ever,” PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez told the crowd. “We know what has to be done and we’re going to continue calling for it.”
CUNY BOARD OF TRUSTEES HEARING
OCTOBER 22, 2018
Packing a CUNY Board of Trustees hearing, more than 100 PSC members delivered passionate and often personal testimony on why the board should live up to its duty and make a state budget request that fully funds PSC’s contract demands. PSC members spoke for hours. Full-time salaries are $30,000 to $40,000 below those paid at comparable institutions. Faculty teach in “decrepit and depressing” classrooms. Low adjunct pay has a “shattering effect” on maintaining stability in academic departments.
Don’t “self-censor your own budget request,” PSC LaGuardia Community College Chapter Chair Sigmund Shen told CUNY administration assembled at the hearing. “Your budget request can send a signal that you at least are fighting as hard as you can for a better university, one the working class, women, people of color and immigrant students of this city need and deserve.”
PRESS THE PRESIDENTS
Thousands of PSC members signed a local campus petition demanding that their campus president push for a budget request that includes enough funding for the contract, including the transformational demand of $7K per course for adjuncts. At CUNY, starting pay for adjuncts is only $3,200 per course, while Rutgers University pays $5,200 and Fordham University pays adjuncts $7,000 to $8,000.
Several campuses organized local actions around the petition. At Queens College, adjuncts organizing around the issue secured a meeting with Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez, who said that he could reach out to the college’s donor base and vowed to bring the workers’ concerns to the interim chancellor.
At the meeting, Vadim Acosta, an adjunct lecturer in environmental science at Queens College, talked about how he works as a gardener so he can support his career in academia. “I had to find a ‘real’ job in order to do my hobby of teaching, but it’s not a hobby,” Acosta told the president.
With diagonal lines, stated contract demands and a singular exclamation point, the PSC released its Contract Poster Campaign.
The red and manila posters, designed in Constructivist style, come in 11 different versions, stating 11 different contract demands.
PSC members hung up posters on their office doors and cubicles. One especially ambitious member plastered all 11 different versions of the poster on their office door.
Gerry Martini, assistant director of admissions at the Graduate Center, tweeted the photo of the door with the demand, “GC Peeps: get your door game going!”
TESTIMONY ON MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT
DECEMBER 5, 2018
The Professional Staff Congress, joined by the United University Professions (SUNY’s faculty and staff union), testified to the State Assembly on the importance of the “maintenance of effort” bill for funding for CUNY and SUNY that has been passed by both houses of the legislature.
PSC President Barbara Bowen said in her testimony: “The current funding model for CUNY, even with the present MOE in place, is unsustainable....It forces the university either to cut existing academic programs to make up for the budget shortfall or to rely on huge numbers of low-wage workers as instructors or to escalate the pace of tuition and fee increases.”
The bill, had it not been vetoed by the governor a few weeks later, would have provided funds for future collective bargaining agreements at SUNY and CUNY.
BARUCH CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
DECEMBER 10, 2018
At twilight on a crisp December day, PSC members locked arms, blocking an entrance to Baruch while the CUNY Board of Trustees met inside. They chanted, “Board of Trustees, do your job. Demand the funding CUNY needs.”
It was the first civil disobedience in this PSC contract campaign, and it came after a little more than a year of working with an expired contract. Hundreds attended the rally. Seventeen members were arrested.
Iris DeLutro, PSC vice president of cross campus units, was one of the PSC activists arrested. “Putting this kind of pressure seems to be the only thing that makes things happen,” said DeLutro, who has been working as an HEO at CUNY for nearly 35 years. “We need to make things right, with the adjuncts, the HEOs, the CLTs, the students, primarily the students. It’s really about them.”
“GRADE-IN," BROOKLYN COLLEGE
DECEMBER 11, 2018
With pens and laptops in hand, around 60 people crowded the hallway outside the office of Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson. They were sitting in and participating in the local PSC chapter’s “grade-in,” where they publicly corrected assignments, making visible the invisible and uncompensated work that adjuncts do.
Adjuncts teaching eight courses per year make a median salary of $28,000 per year, according to chapter officials. The action took place during the last week of classes in the fall semester.
“I limit myself to an hour of lesson planning for every class, which sometimes isn’t enough,” Alyssa Northrop, an adjunct instructor in the English department told the Brooklyn Paper. “I don’t get compensated for what I do outside the classroom, and as a result my students suffer.”