Strike authorization talks build bonds
The Graduate Center (GC) PSC Chapter, which includes the School for Professional Studies, is busy! Nearly 50 members are now trained to organize for the strike authorization vote, the majority of whom are having conversations and submitting assessments. Whether or not the leadership calls for strike activity, our chapter will be in a stronger position than it has been in many years because of the expansive, one-on-one organizing we are undertaking.
As evidence both of the severe situation we face and the growing engagement of members in chapter activity, on Thursday, March 3, we had our largest GC meeting to date, with at least 130 in attendance – HEOs, graduate employees, adjuncts, CLTs and full-time faculty. We had lively small-group conversations, discussing in detail how the 3 percent budget cuts the GC absorbed this year have affected our working conditions. PSC President Barbara Bowen attended, providing an overview of the situation in Albany and the work we are doing as a union to build leverage there, and with respect to CUNY management. When President Bowen asked who had signed the strike authorization pledge, nearly every hand was raised: It seems clear that the hunger for efficacious, militant action is growing.
Now that I have had dozens of strike authorization conversations, I am truly enjoying myself. Though the austerity we face is grave, it is great to connect with dozens of fellow members, getting a sense of the solidarity that is possible when we build relationships beyond our immediate spheres of work and study. The organizing we are doing now will make us stronger for years to come.
Graduate Center Chapter Chair
Milliken meets with department chairs
As chair of the social science department at LaGuardia Community College, along with my fellow chairs from all over CUNY, I was invited to meet with Chancellor James B. Milliken on March 2. The event was sponsored by the CUNY Academy for Humanities. In his opening remarks, the chancellor acknowledged that there were real challenges facing CUNY, particularly the $485 million cut to the CUNY budget proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the lack of a settlement of CUNY contracts for the PSC and DC 37.
Although he acknowledged these issues, the chancellor did not sound the alarm that this was a crisis of major proportions. He reported that he had made several trips to Albany to talk with legislators. While most recognize those efforts, the dominant feeling in the room was that they were not enough. During the question period, the chancellor was asked why he did not launch a more public campaign to achieve these goals. His answer was that he had a “different role to play than the union.” The chairs raised issues about the general state of demoralization and incredulity of faculty and staff about the amount of money proposed by management as CUNY’s economic offer. As one faculty member said, directing his remarks to the chancellor, “How do you think you would feel if you were offered a raise of 6 percent?”
Later that week, as I listened to my college president talk about the crisis of funding and her fears that the yearly trip to Albany with students would not have enough of an impact to achieve more funding, I thought to myself, “Why doesn’t the chancellor ask every single college president to come with him on the same day to Albany?” This would demonstrate the seriousness of the funding and contract crisis. If ever there was a time for bold leadership, this is it.
LaGuardia Community College
A moving lobby day
At the February 25 student-faculty-staff Higher Education Action Day in Albany, I lobbied with a team that included students from Borough of Manhattan Community College, City Tech and Baruch. Their commitment to public higher education was impressive, as was their power to tell the human story that hides behind budget numbers.
I’ve been on similar lobbying trips before, so neither that commitment nor that power surprised me. Here’s what did: Out of the blue, with no prompting from me, students talked to legislators and their staff members about the importance of the funding needed for a new PSC contract. They get it. They understand the way in which our lack of a contract threatens the quality of their education, and they understand that our demand for a decent contract is a matter of justice.
Above all, I was moved by the words of a particular student in our group, a young woman who attends City Tech, who spoke with evident distress about the low pay of a beloved professor of hers who, she recently found out, is an adjunct. We know how effective it is when communicating with legislators for students to put human faces on the CUNY story. What I learned in Albany is that it is just as important, when we speak with students and community members, to put human faces on the PSC story.
Borough of Manhattan Community College
Local media and the PSC
The fight for a contract is a collective battle, but we also have individual means for helping to win a contract. We all need to think of what contacts we may have for local media who can publicize our story. A neglected set of media in this regard is the non-English-language media. Another is very local media — limited access TV, local weeklies, neighborhood-based outlets. The PSC can provide information and photos to help such media outlets develop their stories.
A related means of spreading the word about our just fight is to write letters to the editor. Although it is exceedingly difficult to get a letter published in The New York Times, local and non-English-language media often need material.
In a similar vein, if anyone belongs to a professional, fraternal, civic, religious, or political group, please suggest to the appropriate person that they invite a representative of the PSC as a speaker. In addition to disseminating information to that audience, such an appearance might then be communicated to wider audiences through those organizations’ newsletters. (It is important, of course, to coordinate all such efforts with the PSC communications department.)
We must always keep in mind that our fight for the contract is joined with the fight against tuition increases. Our fight is a fight for the democratic right of all Americans — new and old, rich and poor — to attend college. Our fight is their fight. It makes perfect sense that we ask for help from the communities that CUNY serves so well. So let’s get busy finding ways to spread the news that CUNY employees deserve a contract and CUNY students cannot tolerate an increase in tuition.
Hostos Community College (retired)