Bargaining Update #2: Salary Demands
Barbara Bowen, PSC President
July 3, 2018
On June 27, as the Supreme Court decision in the Janus case was being announced, the PSC was at the bargaining table, pushing for salary increases and a new contract. As we presented contract demands, new membership applications were streaming in to the union office.
Thank you for your commitment to union membership. The PSC’s power at the bargaining table comes from our members. Now more than ever, the union depends on your continuing commitment to membership.
The PSC bargaining team brought the strength of our membership to the table at the two most recent bargaining sessions, both of which focused on the union’s salary demands—the first on full-time salaries and the second on salaries for part-timers.
On May 15, we made a detailed presentation on the history and competitiveness of full-time faculty salaries at CUNY. Using graphs that summarized more than 40 years of salary data, we showed that CUNY full-time faculty salaries have fallen tens of thousands of dollars behind those at comparable institutions such as Rutgers and Penn State. (See the most recent Clarion for a selection of the data we presented.) We argued that “pattern bargaining,” practiced by both New York City and New York State and purportedly based on local economic conditions, is not appropriate for an institution like CUNY that recruits nationally.
Pattern bargaining is an approach to contract negotiations with multiple unions and sometimes multiple employers in which the first contract to be settled sets the economic “pattern” for all other contracts in that round of bargaining. For the past four or five decades, pattern bargaining has been aggressively enforced among public-employee unions in New York. As a result, the unions have generally been held to a ceiling established by the first contract settled. The challenge we face in this round is that the big statewide unions have already settled for modest annual increases of 2%, and the first citywide union settlement was reached last week, by DC 37, also for increases in the range of 2% to 2.25% per year.
CUNY management cited these patterns at the bargaining table as the anticipated limit of our economic settlement. But the PSC has overcome big challenges in the past because we have organized our collective power to demand improvements in working and learning conditions at CUNY. In past contracts we have found creative ways to add value for members and win changes that were initially considered out of reach, such as retroactive raises (in 2016), sabbaticals at 80% pay (in 2006), paid parental leave (in 2009), junior faculty reassigned time (in 2002 and 2006), paid office hours for eligible adjuncts (in 2002), HEO and CLT salary differentials (in 2008 and 2016) and a reduction in the teaching load (in 2017).
Organized membership pressure will be even more important in this round. PSC members must demand that the CUNY trustees use their political leverage to secure fair and improved salaries. If you haven’t yet sent your letter to the trustees about this contract, don’t wait any longer! They count how many letters they receive to assess how determined we are.
And please make plans now to attend our major contract demonstration on September 27. Details will be announced as the date approaches.
The biggest challenge we face was raised at the session on June 27: the need for a major increase in adjunct pay. The majority of courses at CUNY are now taught by adjuncts. The number of adjuncts has nearly doubled since 2000. CUNY is reliant on a part-time and contingent workforce to do its core work of teaching, especially teaching the introductory courses that are make-or-break for student retention.
Yet CUNY pays its adjuncts nearly $2,000 less per course than adjuncts are paid at Rutgers and nearly $3,000 less per course than adjuncts at Penn State. An adjunct who teaches seven courses a year at CUNY (the equivalent of a full-time teaching load) would earn, on average, $24,500 a year. That is a near-poverty wage in New York City. The PSC is demanding an increase to $7,000 per three-credit course, the minimum needed to bring adjunct pay up to a livable level.
Increasing adjunct pay is the key to ending austerity conditions at CUNY. Paying anyone $3,222 (the CUNY minimum) to teach a college course devalues all of our work. Everyone on the faculty and professional staff at CUNY is diminished if anyone at CUNY can be paid near-poverty wages for professional work. As long as the CUNY administration can accomplish its core task—undergraduate teaching—largely though cheap labor, it will have no incentive to improve pay and conditions overall. The reliance on underpaid adjuncts is the most extreme symptom of austerity conditions at CUNY; if that were addressed, conditions for all faculty and staff—and above all, for students—would be transformed. Everyone represented by the PSC has a profound stake in raising adjunct pay.
The PSC bargaining team made it clear that the union’s demand for an increase in adjunct pay must be addressed in this contract. We acknowledged that raising the minimum adjunct pay to $7K per course will require additional funding, beyond the typical contract settlement. But we took the firm position with management’s representatives that securing such funding is not impossible. We called on them to work with us to identify and achieve the funds necessary to end the gross underpayment of half of the teaching workforce. Several adjunct members of the bargaining team joined the presentation at the table. They testified to the impact on their own lives of CUNY’s low pay, while at the same time affirming their commitment to the work because of its meaning for CUNY students.
Three additional bargaining sessions are scheduled for July and August, with several labor/management subcommittees meeting on bargaining demands in between. Updates on these sessions will follow. An update on CUNY management’s demands will also follow. Management’s demands were handed across the table but have not yet been discussed in detail.
Support the bargaining team as we press forward with your demands. We are only as strong at the table as you are in your organized support. Please send your letter to Board Chair William Thompson before you do anything else this summer. Thank you for standing with the bargaining team that represents you.