PSC President Barbara Bowen
Dear PSC Colleague:
I hope your summer is going well. I am writing to update you on contract negotiations. PSC negotiations are complex, so there was no way to make this a short email. Thank you for reading it.
Where do negotiations stand?
We do not yet have a new contract, but progress is being made and negotiations have become much more productive since late spring. I am hopeful that we will have an agreement by the beginning of the fall semester.
The PSC leadership saw an opportunity to push for an agreement in June as New York City budget negotiations coincided with the end of the State legislative session and the first months in office of a new chancellor. The momentum the union created in the spring continues to energize contract talks. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has shown responsiveness to the hundreds of letters he received from PSC members on his first day in office and the exuberant presence of union activists at CUNY graduations this spring.
What is holding up negotiations?
The major challenge in this round of bargaining is that the PSC is determined to achieve salary and benefit increases for everyone while at the same time achieving a historic gain in adjunct pay. That is a huge task in a political system dominated by “pattern bargaining” and economic austerity. Both Albany and City Hall restrict all public-employee unions to the same inflation-level increases (“the pattern”), allowing few resources to remedy longstanding issues of wage justice, equity and competitive salaries. The PSC is campaigning against that austerity logic.
While many of us have been encouraged by breakthroughs on progressive legislation in Albany this year, the progressive wave has not yet shifted Albany’s approach to the budget. Fiscal austerity prevails. The PSC is working in coalition to change that.
What is the union fighting for?
The union’s agenda in this round of bargaining builds on our success over nearly two decades of making ambitious demands and winning them-sometimes over the course of more than one contract-through the collective power and action of the union’s 30,000 members. That history gives us confidence as we try to reach a settlement in this round.
Among the demands in the union’s most recent formal proposal are:
- salary increases for all in every year of the contract, at the level of inflation or more
- back-pay for retroactive increases
- an increase in adjunct pay to $7K per course, achieved by paying adjuncts for hours worked outside of class as well as hours in the classroom
- additional equity increases in salary for lower-paid full-time positions, including CLTs, Assistants to HEO and Lecturers
- New York State paid family leave for all full-time and part-time employees (in addition to the existing paid parental leave), allowing paid time off to care for family members and newborn/newly adopted children
- funding for further enhancements in Welfare Fund benefits
- increased support and improved procedures for HEO assignment differentials
- additional support for department chairs
- improvements in tuition waivers and other provisions for graduate employees
- increased funds for travel, PSC-CUNY Awards and professional development grants
- improvements for non-teaching adjuncts, CLIP and CUNY Start instructors and other hourly employees
- expanded tuition waivers and waivers for employees’ children at CUNY
- contract language against bullying
- contract language on online teaching
- and other gains.
Why has the union prioritized adjunct pay in this contract?
Because the issue cannot wait and now is the strategic moment to address it.
The PSC has been a leader in making incremental gains for adjuncts, such as health insurance, paid professional hours, three-year appointments, professional development grants and more. But the union leadership believes that CUNY’s use of adjuncts has reached a crisis point. More than 60 percent of courses at the senior colleges are now being taught by adjuncts, and adjuncts continue to be grossly underpaid.
Meanwhile New York State has enacted historic legislation raising the minimum wage. The current moment offers our best chance to crack the system of exploitative underpayment of adjuncts at CUNY. PSC members and leaders have made it clear in fact sheets, public testimony, mass demonstrations and a media campaign that CUNY adjuncts’ pay amounts to barely minimum wage, given the number of hours adjuncts work outside of the classroom. The union has gained public support for the position that New York City and State must provide fair pay for the adjuncts on their own payrolls.
Will a higher adjunct increase mean shortchanging other members?
No. That is exactly what the union bargaining team has refused to accept, and it’s one reason for the delay in reaching an agreement. The bargaining team forcefully rejected management’s initial proposal, which pitted one group of members against another. We called it a zero-sum approach. The union is demanding instead that the City and State step up to their responsibilities and provide CUNY with the funding needed to pay everyone a decent salary.
Here’s another way of thinking about it: rather than being willing to divide up an inadequate economic “pie” into even smaller slices, the PSC has insisted that the pie be expanded. There’s plenty of money to do that in this rich city and state.
Do all members have a stake in raising adjunct pay?
Absolutely. For full-time professional staff and faculty, fighting for a major increase in adjunct pay is not just solidarity, important as solidarity is in every union struggle. Fighting for higher adjunct pay is fighting for ourselves.
CUNY’s willingness to accomplish most of its core work on the backs of poorly paid adjuncts helps to hold down wages and increase workload of every other worker. Although many adjuncts heroically take on unpaid work outside of class, the dearth of full-time faculty positions and the pressure put on adjuncts by their low pay increases the work for full-time staff and faculty while decreasing support for students. Everyone suffers.
Ultimately, however, the battle for fair adjunct pay is a battle for CUNY students. CUNY is underfunded because of repeated, conscious policy decisions not to invest adequately in the students we teach. By taking a strong position on adjunct pay in this contract, PSC members are working to reverse those policy decisions and challenge the politics of race, class and immigration that undergird them.
The contract the PSC is seeking to achieve is a contract for all of us.
What can members do this summer?
Be alert for further updates and ready to respond if the bargaining team calls on you to add pressure at a strategic moment in negotiations. We may well need a major push by members to reach a final agreement.
Watch for meetings of your union chapter, even during the summer. Professional staff are continuing to hold union meetings throughout the summer months, and the union will hold additional summer meetings, on campuses and CUNY-wide, if we reach a tentative agreement.
Be ready to consider and vote on ratification of a proposed settlement whenever one is reached. The union leadership will send any proposed agreement to the entire membership as soon as it is approved by our Executive Council. If approved by the PSC Delegate Assembly, the agreement will be submitted to members for a vote. PSC leaders will ensure that members have ample time to study its terms in detail and engage in discussion before voting on ratification.
And whenever the ratification vote occurs, union officers and staff will work with activists to hold member-to-member conversations about the proposed agreement. Every active member makes the union stronger.
Thank you for your support. The bargaining team will provide further updates as negotiations progress.