Unions can fight for health care
The employer-based healthcare system that provides coverage for union members and about half of all Americans is failing. Healthcare costs continue to rise at twice the rate of inflation, with the result that an increasing number of employers are failing to provide any coverage at all, while those that do, provide plans with limited benefits, increasing deductibles and rising copays.
Most labor unions have long supported universal access to health care as a basic human right. Large numbers have passed resolutions at their conventions in support of publicly funded health insurance. The New York State Nurses Association and 1199SEIU are actively supporting the New York Health Act, and the PSC Delegate Assembly has supported it as a “work in progress.”
However, some unions express concerns that the taxes that would fund the program are not specified in the legislation, that organized labor’s role in the program is limited, and that there is no guarantee that the level of services would be as high as under current negotiated plans.
Replacing employer-provided health benefits with state-funded health insurance would have a significant impact on labor unions as they function today. A substantial portion of the funds they receive pay to support their health benefit responsibilities. Will their members be as attached to their union when they are no longer the source of their health benefits? This is a special concern for public-sector unions in this post-Janus period, when union membership is not obligatory. And what will happen to union employees who now work for health benefit programs? These concerns are raised by local labor leaders as they consider whether to support the New York Health Act.
Passage of a universal state-funded healthcare program would benefit every resident of the state, including union members. No longer would any New Yorker have to go without care because of an inability to pay, nor would the cost of care continue to consume an increasing share of our wages.
The labor movement has always led in advocating for expanded social benefits for workers, from minimum wages and shorter working hours to Medicare for seniors and expanded health benefits for all workers. They must again lead in the fight for universal health care, while recognizing and addressing whatever internal disruptions it might bring.
Queens College, Retired
Pennies for our thoughts
We received the Clarion around Christmas. As part of the teaching staff at the American Language Academy at Brooklyn College, we do not feel that the new contract was a Christmas present for us or our colleagues.
Our 2% raise this year amounts to less than a dollar increase per hour. You gloss over the fact that our “10.4%” pay increase will only come in 2% dribs and drabs over five years. Considering that Social Security has granted a 3.4% cost of living adjustment for the past two years, we view the yearly 2% increase as a slap in the face.
The system is set up so that it is rare for us to teach more than 10 hours per week at any one CUNY campus. As a result, most of us will never be paid for office hours, pensions, disability, sick leave or receive other benefits. No extra monetary consideration is given for our experience, additional training, postgraduate degrees or certification in the field of English as second language. Most can only get raises from new union contracts. Almost all of our coworkers will still have to continue working two or more jobs, including teaching at other CUNY campuses.
As a result of this inequitable raise, we predict that many of us will no longer teach at CUNY by the time our salary increase goes up to the 10.4% that you have bragged about.
Keep in mind that while 86% of the union members voted to ratify, that does not say everything. Overall, 25% did not vote, some in part because they saw little benefit in ratifying an unjust deal. Others voted yes because some increase is better than none. Some voted yes to help the adjuncts, but 14% voted against the contract. Truly equitable and decent union contract agreements shouldn’t get such a negative response.
We are still in the category of titles with the lowest and most underpaid teaching staff and you did almost nothing to help us.
Editor’s note: The authors are employed as Continuing Education Teachers (CETs), an hourly title established by CUNY in the 1990s in an effort to offer “non-adjunct careers” at an ever-cheaper rate than adjuncts. They are not covered by the collective bargaining agreement but a “supplemental agreement” that contains fewer benefits. The PSC has sought to improve CET salaries and conditions per CETs, but it has been slow, often because the programs that employ them are relatively short-lived.
Florida in 2020
Millions of people visit Florida every year from other states – more of them from New York than anywhere else. And Florida’s vote count, unlike New York’s, could have a decisive impact on who wins the presidential election. A new website, HelpFloridaRegister.org, makes it easy for Florida visitors (or residents) to volunteer for voter registration by connecting with local community groups. A Spanish version is at RegistremosaFlorida.org or PRvotaEnFlorida.org.
If you’ll be visiting Florida this year, or know someone who is, take a look at HelpFloridaRegister.org today. Select the area you’re interested in and you’ll get a list of voter registration groups that are active there, with instructions on how to volunteer. Some groups require a training session as the first step, so advance planning is recommended.
If we can get a small fraction of Florida’s visitors to volunteer for voter registration in a state where elections are famously close, it could shape the outcome in 2020. Please tell your friends about HelpFloridaRegister.org. If you belong to a neighborhood group, a religious congregation, a political club, etc., get members informed about HelpFloridaRegister.org (through posting on social media, a newsletter item, announcing it in person, whatever).
With your support, we can help expand Florida’s electorate in 2020.
The writer is a former editor of Clarion.
PSC members – especially full-time, tenure-track or tenured faculty – should take a look at an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called, “Title Policing and Other Ways Professors Bully the Academic Staff.” It explains how a full professor in the history department at San Diego State took to task via email a senior academic advisor at the University of Minnesota, for supposedly misstating his relationship to its history department in an essay he wrote for CNN. The email author didn’t stop there, he also copied the advisor’s department chair, just in case she was unaware of the transgression.
David M. Perry, an academic advisor and freelance journalist, happens to have left a tenure-track, full professor position at a small Illinois college because his son is disabled and the state of Minnesota offers better funding and services. He writes for several publications and the department chair herself had suggested that he include his title and affiliation with his essays to raise the profile of the program.
Some might want to dismiss these cases as extreme, or part of the toxicity of social media, but I think they reflect dynamics that are part of university culture. Perry suggests that in universities staffed by contingent faculty, and with hybrid education and work backgrounds, we ought to be careful about the assumptions we make. I think we need to go further than that.
Perry’s work isn’t more valuable because he was a full professor and has a PhD. We need to value equally all members of faculty and staff because everyone contributes something important and we depend on one another for what each person and position offers. In light of that, faculty and staff with somewhat more, or a lot more, power in the academy, despite whether they consider themselves powerful or not, need to be aware of the privileges and influence that come with their position and not use that against faculty and staff with less power in that specific arrangement. This holds true within the union as well. So many of us at CUNY are deeply committed to ending inequality, and our union solidarity should reflect that.
Borough of Manhattan Community College