As hundreds of PSC members protested inside and outside Monday’s (9/26/11) Board of Trustees meeting, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein announced that the University will seek funding for adjunct health insurance in its upcoming State budget request.
The announcement marked a milestone in the union’s 11-year campaign to get CUNY to back full permanent funding for adjunct health insurance.
“It’s the first time CUNY has ever moved on adjunct healthcare,” PSC President Barbara Bowen told a jubilant crowd afterward. However, Bowen cautioned that getting CUNY to make adjunct health insurance a budget priority was only a first step. “The next step is to hold them to that priority, to insist that it’s funded by the state. And then the next step, if we succeed with the state, is to negotiate the movement of adjuncts onto full healthcare.”
Bowen added that the union will hold a variety of creative actions at the CUNY campuses in the coming weeks in order to continue building its campaign for adjunct health insurance. More than 500 people participated in Monday’s action.
Renee Mizrahi teaching at KCC
Renee Mizrahi, an adjunct lecturer in English at KCC since 2003, welcomed the news. Mizrahi received a kidney transplant in 2008 and relies on immunosuppressant drugs to remain alive.
“I feel fantastic. Everyone should have access to healthcare,” she said. “Sometimes I wake up at night very scared and wonder what’s going to happen if they take away my health insurance.”
“Half of our courses are taught by adjuncts,” said Yunzhong Shu, an associate professor of Chinese at Queens College. “It boils down to the issue of fairness.”
About 75 PSC members crowded the 14th floor conference room in the Baruch Vertical Campus where the Board held its meeting. The union made its presence felt when a group of about 15 women (and a couple of men) stood at the front of the room singing an adapted version of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Not Be Moved” with verses such as:
We’re standing with our union, we shall not be moved.
Full-time and part-time, we shall not be moved.
Health care is a human right, we shall not be moved.
Do the right thing, CUNY, we shall not be moved.
Once the singing halted, Barbara Bowen handed copies of more than 2,000 petition signatures in support of adjunct health insurance to CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson. During the meeting, many crowd members held aloft bright red and white placards that read “Do the Right Thing, CUNY!” During the Chancellor’s report a gentle, fluttering sound filled the room as the protesters shook their signs in unison.
Monday’s action at the Board of Trustees drew both full and part-time faculty who were appalled at the thought that they or their colleagues could lose something as basic as healthcare coverage.
“It’s an issue that full-time faculty need to care about as much as adjuncts,” said Jennifer Hayashida, a distinguished lecturer who serves as the director of the Asian American Studies Program at Hunter. “It would completely dehumanize the institution.”
“’Let them die’ is not an appropriate stance for CUNY’s upper-level administration to take in regard to half of its faculty,” said Jane Weiss, an assistant professor of English at KCC who previously worked as an adjunct at Hunter for 16 years. “People who don’t have health coverage sometimes miss diagnoses or treatments that they need to have and some of them actually do die. It’s a life or death issue.”
“If I lost my health insurance, that would be a third of my wages,” said Bettina Berch an economics adjunct at BMCC who is the author five books including one on the political economy of women and work. “I love teaching, but I can’t teach for nothing. I would have to teach somewhere else.”
Ari Richter, an adjunct who teaches art at LaGuardia, said he had no union and no health insurance when he previously taught at community colleges in North Carolina before moving to New York in 2009. He gained healthcare coverage after going to work at CUNY and he wants it to stay that way.
Oscar Kuszai, with his father Joel (Assistant Professor/QCC), was the youngest supporter of Adjunct healthcare at the rally.
While teaching at CUNY, Richter said, “[I] know that I’m safe and know that I’m able to stay healthy. So I think it’s a travesty now that they’re trying to get rid of this thing that I treasure so greatly.”
Mike Cesarano, an assistant professor of theater at QCC, said having healthcare when he adjuncted at CUNY for seven years was invaluable. He said he came out on Monday because a union’s strength comes from the members’ willingness to fight for each other’s needs.
“I want the union to be there when I need them, so I wanted to do my part,” Cesarano said.