Workers at the Central Office of the CUNY Research Foundation (RF-CUNY) are stepping up their efforts to win a fair contract settlement. With management and the union far apart on a number of key issues, PSC members are pressing management to change its stance.
Bargaining on a new three-year contract began at the end of September 2012. The 94 members of the RF-Central Office PSC chapter have signaled their unity by wearing PSC buttons at work and by organizing coordinated days on which they all wear the same pro-union t-shirt.
On December 17, RF workers and allies picketed outside the Research Foundation headquarters, while the organization’s Board of Directors was slated to hold its semi-annual meeting eight floors above.
“The more we stay united, the harder it is for them to put us down,” said Rafael Ahumada, a worker in the Grants and Contracts Department.
The RF Central Office administers CUNY’s grants and awards, which last year totaled more than $350 million. Though closely linked to CUNY in practice, the foundation is technically a separate private-sector entity. It is therefore not covered by the Taylor Law, a State statute that prohibits public-sector employees from going on strike. The present union contract at the Central Office expires December 31, 2012, and no strike vote has yet been taken. Management is currently offering wage increases of 1.5%, 1.5% and 1.75% while demanding that workers pay a higher percentage of their health care premiums.
The paltry wage offer has incensed members. “The cost of living is ridiculous,” said Debbie Sacco of the RF’s Human Resources Department. “I have two children living at home with me.”
Management is also looking to reduce the amount of annual leave and sick pay for new employees. In addition, it has sought to impose a new dress and personal appearance code that would regulate everything from untucked shirts to “natural or unnatural body odors.” RF negotiators withdrew the latter point in response to union objections, but are still pursuing other elements of the dress code demand.
The union is seeking pay increases commensurate with the increased volume of work and the cost of health care. It is also demanding paid parental leave for new parents and is resisting management’s drive to tightly regulate members’ personal appearance. Thomas Kim, an RF worker and member of the union bargaining team, says that the biggest problem with the proposed dress code is that “it would open a door to discrimination.” Would a guayabera in the summertime violate such a code? PSC members say this would not be an issue at other non-profit educational institutions, and there is no reason it should be at the RF.
The main issues remain the economic ones. “It’s becoming apparent that there’s going to be more of a fight to reach an agreement” on salary increases and benefits, said Kim. The December 17 picket, he said, was a start.
“We can’t take this situation lightly,” said union activist Julieann Brown, who works in the Grants and Contract Department. “Management sticks together. So we have to stick together as well.”
Bargaining for a Better RF: Many Issues to Be Addressed (Oct. 2012 Clarion)
RF-CUNY Workers Win a New Contract: Strike Deadline Yields Gains (Jan. 2010 Clarion)