More than 9,000 CUNY faculty and staff have signed a PSC petition calling for action on a new contract settlement – and the number continues to grow. The statement urges Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio “to take immediate action to enable a fair settlement of the labor contract” at CUNY.
“We work at CUNY because we believe in what CUNY stands for, but we are not prepared to tolerate conditions that undermine our own lives and the life-chances of our students,” the petition says. “Our work is critical to New York’s future: we need a contract that lets us do our best,” a union statement said.
Push for Offer
The union leadership and bargaining committee have focused on pushing CUNY to produce an economic offer. PSC President Barbara Bowen called on the CUNY Board of Trustees to make an offer by the end of the Fall semester, but CUNY management failed to produce one.
“The union is prepared to escalate our campaign if that’s what it will take to get an offer on the table,” said Bowen in January. “Thousands of members have signed the petition demanding a good contract, and we are ready to make that demand public and uncomfortable for those in power. It is an outrage that CUNY management has not produced an economic offer after six months of bargaining and five years without a contractual raise. CUNY faculty and staff are not willing to wait much longer.”
Despite the University’s failure to move on economics, PSC negotiators say they continue to hold useful bargaining sessions with CUNY management, discussing in detail the specifics of the union’s agenda as well as management’s demands. “Our strategy is to have as much preliminary discussion as possible so we can conclude a settlement quickly once there is movement on economics,” a union bargaining team member told Clarion.
In addition to signing the union’s contract petition by the thousands, PSC members also spoke out for a new contract in person, carrying their message to CUNY’s Board of Trustees at a November 24 public hearing.
CUNY salaries have fallen further and further behind the cost of living in NYC, Joyce Solomon Moorman, associate professor of music at BMCC, told the hearing. As a result, she said, faculty and staff are forced to live farther and farther away in order to find housing they can afford. “How does their long commute affect their teaching, time available for college service and meeting with students, and time for research?” Moorman asked.
Union members spoke in support of other priority contract demands, including a reduced teaching load to allow more time for scholarship and assisting individual students; basic job security for adjunct faculty; and a system of professional advancement for Higher Education Officer-series employees.
With no economic offer on the table, the December 9 bargaining session focused on PSC proposals on the rights of members in the use of educational technology and distance learning.
Demands presented by PSC negotiators included updating contractual provisions on classroom teaching observations for online learning environments; professional rights of faculty in the use of educational technology; and support for professional development. In this fast-changing field, union bargainers said that it is critically important to establish an ongoing labor/management committee to address new issues in educational technology as they arise.
“Management seems willing to engage with the union’s proposals,” a PSC negotiator told Clarion. Subcommittee meetings will continue the discussion in more detail.
The bargaining session on December 12 focused on the union’s demand for a comprehensive reduction in teaching load. Scores of PSC members attended as observers. CUNY listened, asked questions, raised the issue of cost, and agreed to consider the PSC proposals in more detail.
Bowen presented the PSC’s position that there is an urgent need to restructure the workload of the full-time faculty. Deploying faculty members’ time more effectively would allow them to serve students better and to be more productive as researchers and scholars, the union says. “Few things would be more transformative for the success of our students,” Bowen told Clarion.
The PSC’s demand is for a three-credit reduction in teaching load for faculty in full-time teaching titles. “Something must and can be done to restructure teaching load,” Bowen commented. A 21-hour teaching load is far above the national average for a four-year college, and this makes CUNY uncompetitive. SUNY’s research colleges, she pointed out, have a 2-2 load.
The 27-hour teaching load at CUNY’s community colleges is untenable for many reasons, Bowen said. “CUNY’s community colleges are part of a university system that recruits faculty with an eye to fostering significant research careers as well as teaching,” she explained.
“Every initiative at the colleges, many of which we support, adds committee obligations,” Bowen emphasized. “Faculty are leaving CUNY, and workload is often the main reason. We need to change the mindset that nothing can be done about teaching load.”
Bowen cited CUNY’s well-regarded ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) initiative as “a blueprint” for the benefits of faculty having more time to spend with students: graduation rates more than double. “With this contract we have an opportunity to do something for all CUNY students,” she concluded. “If faculty workload is made more reasonable, students will benefit.”
The union has sought additional sessions to move other issues forward, while continuing to press for a satisfactory economic offer. As of mid-January, CUNY had agreed to hold a session discussing the union’s demand for a system of humane, professional job security for long-serving adjuncts.
Despite the absence of an economic offer, the December 9 bargaining session still included discussion of salary increases. PSC representatives strongly emphasized the need for comprehensive salary increases – increases for everyone – rather than a focus on higher salaries for a few. The PSC team presented data on the decline in real-dollar value of CUNY salaries in past decades.
As Fall semester wound down, Bowen spoke for many in expressing her frustration with the lack of an economic offer. “No one assumes that it is easy to address the political complexities of producing an economic offer for a university that receives funds from both City and State,” Bowen told CUNY trustees on November 24. “But a full summer and nearly a semester have passed since serious bargaining began and other municipal-worker contracts were first settled….The 27,000 faculty and staff I represent are demanding action.”