Representatives of the PSC and CUNY management were busy over the summer, in talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. Demands from both sides have been discussed, and negotiators say that some progress has been made. CUNY has not yet made an economic offer, however – and as Fall semester began, the PSC was pressing management to do so.
“Every time I’m on a CUNY campus, members ask me how soon we will get a raise,” said PSC Secretary Arthurine DeSola. “It is the number-one thing I hear. They tell me that their expenses keep going up, that an increase to our salaries is long overdue – and they’re right!”
In an August 29 statement, PSC President Barbara Bowen, the union’s chief negotiator, said that Chancellor Milliken’s stated commitment to reaching a contract settlement was welcome, and she praised “the tone of respect for the faculty and staff that has characterized the approach of CUNY’s Office of Labor Relations – a marked departure from the start of previous rounds of bargaining.” But PSC negotiators say management must make an economic offer soon, in order for contract talks to be successful.
No Economic Offer
The labor agreement for faculty and professional staff at CUNY is different than other municipal union contracts in NYC. The PSC negotiates with CUNY management, not with the City or State – but because CUNY is funded by both levels of government, both play a role in any contract settlement.
“The PSC bargaining team…understands the complexity of working with both State and City governments to develop an economic offer,” Bowen noted. “But we also understand that members cannot wait much longer.” While the two sides have discussed how some economic issues might be resolved, no bargaining on economic questions can take place until management puts an economic offer on the table. That includes bargaining on retroactive pay, relief on teaching load, equity increases, and any item with a significant economic cost.
“We cannot risk waiting indefinitely for an economic offer,” Bowen emphasized. “The momentum to settle NYC contracts may be lost, and the real economic need of PSC members is too great.”
In past rounds of contract negotiations, discussion took place mainly in formal bargaining sessions. In the current round, the two sides have taken up a number of issues in smaller subcommittees, with the goal of doing preliminary work that enables the formal sessions to make more rapid progress.
Both sides’ demands have also been presented in formal sessions this summer. Discussion has identified each side’s respective priorities and has explored potential areas of agreement.
The union’s top priorities continue to be the need for more competitive salaries at CUNY (especially important for an institution in a high-cost area that recruits nationally); the need for a more reasonable teaching load for full-time faculty; the need for employees in the Higher Education Officer series to be able to advance in their careers; and the need for progress toward equity and fairness for CUNY’s adjuncts.
Union negotiators report that some progress has been made on noneconomic issues such as the grievance procedure. PSC representatives have also made clear that there are some management demands on which union members are not willing to budge, such as eliminating salary steps.
Among the equity issues discussed at the table so far is the need for library faculty to have the same amount of time for annual leave as other full-time faculty. One bargaining session included detailed, compelling testimony by several CUNY library faculty on the national standing of CUNY library faculty on the basis of research.
The recent agreement to shift adjunct health coverage to the NYC Health Benefits Program is good news for covered adjuncts, for whom it ends a crisis they had lived with since 2011. By putting the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund on a more sustainable financial footing, the change also has a positive effect on contract negotiations: in many past bargaining rounds, the talks were forced to grapple with severe problems in the Welfare Fund’s financial condition.
As the new academic year began, union leaders urged PSC members to be ready to take action in support of a fair contract settlement. Plans for a mass membership meeting in October, and a possible protest in late September, were being finalized as Clarion went to press.
“A few years ago we had a mass meeting in Cooper Union, and it had a tremendous effect,” said Felipe Pimentel, assistant professor of sociology at Hostos and a member of the PSC bargaining team. “We had been stalled in negotiations with CUNY. But we had a huge turnout at that meeting, and management got the message! This was what got negotiations moving again.”
“Chancellor Milliken has spoken publicly about his interest in making salaries at CUNY competitive,” noted Bowen. “The best way to do that is to put a fair and respectful contract offer on the table.”