Pressuring govt., chancellor to take action
It’s crunch time.
The Spring 2019 semester has been an intense one for the budget process and the union’s bargaining committee. The final weeks of this semester may be critical in terms of reaching a settlement with CUNY management – with the Albany budget settled and the city budget process coming to a close in the summer, union leaders and rank-and-file members around CUNY are doing all they can to reach a fair contract.
CUNY management’s first economic offer fell far short of the PSC’s demands, prompting the union to put forward a counterproposal maintaining that the city and state need to invest more money into CUNY. Management has yet to issue an official response to that proposal.
PSC members have been applying pressure wherever they can through demonstrations, banner drops and “work-ins” for full funding for CUNY and a fair PSC contract at various CUNY campuses in April (see pages 6-7). And on May 1, International Workers’ Day, thousands of PSC members on all campuses wore red, in conjunction with the national “Red for Ed” teachers union movement. May 1 was also the first workday for the new chancellor, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, and more than 1,000 members welcomed him to the top post with an email urging him to make two vital commitments.
“I call on you to take a public stand against continued austerity for CUNY,” the email said. “Demand without apology the massive increased investment CUNY needs. The CUNY administration must stop seeing its job as managing scarcity and presiding over institutional poverty... There is enough wealth in this rich state to fund a great college education for the people who rely on CUNY.”
The email continued, “My second – and equally urgent – request is that you make it a priority early in your term as chancellor to reach agreement with the PSC on a contract that raises our salaries and enables us to do our work.”
Union members are hopeful that the new chancellor will work quickly to turn around the disappointing state and city budget outcomes to date. The state budget, which was finalized by the April 1 deadline, does little to change the systematic underfunding of CUNY despite the many months PSC members spent meeting with lawmakers.
PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a statement, “The enacted budget contains no state funding for the PSC’s priority: closing the TAP gap – a shortfall of millions of dollars at each CUNY senior college caused by the tuition colleges must waive for students receiving TAP awards. The gap at CUNY is already $74 million and will grow to $86 million next year.” The lack of new funding for the senior college operating budgets (the TAP gap or otherwise), affects the size of the economic offer CUNY management will be willing to make.
PSC members confronted two state senators – John Liu, chair of the New York City Education Committee, and Toby Ann Stavisky, chair of Committee on Higher Education – during a town hall meeting at Queens College about the budget deal. Both members expressed disappointment with the budget’s meager allocation for public higher education, citing the reluctance of Governor Andrew Cuomo when it comes to ending the underfunding of CUNY.
“I was very disappointed, pure and simple,” Stavisky told PSC members. “Did I vote for it? You bet I did, because every Democrat voted for it, because there were many other good things in the budget. I just felt this was not a good budget for higher education.”
But such answers didn’t persuade all PSC members in attendance, as many said state lawmakers should fight for state funding for public higher education more forcefully.
“You guys want more money for CUNY and SUNY? Put it in the budget,” York College PSC Chapter Chair Scott Sheidlower said. “The governor says no? You say, ‘Forget it.’”
In addition, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who like Senator Liu is a freshman senator who defeated a Democratic incumbent who caucused with Republicans, spoke in favor of PSC demands at a press conference at Lehman College in the Bronx on May 3.
Mayor de Blasio’s proposed executive budget for New York City offered little relief for CUNY as well. In fact, several programs were cut modestly. PSC members and leaders are currently lobbying City Council members to restore cuts and increase funding for both community colleges – which are primarily the city’s funding responsibility – and senior colleges to help achieve a contract.
These actions, and more to come, are all about building momentum in the final days of the Spring semester to help push negotiations forward, union leaders said.