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RFCO Workers: Send Our Letter

Research Foundation Central Office Contract Campaign

RFCO1April19

Central Office Workers Only

RFCO Workers' Letter to Management & the Board

All we want is to be respected and to have a standard of living that meets the economic challenges that we are facing.

RF Central Office Strike Authorization Update

CUNY Research Foundation President Hector Cordero-Guzman has threatened to cancel workers’ vacations and declared a 100% return to in-office work in retaliation for a strike authorization vote supported by almost 80% of PSC members at the CUNY Research Foundation (RF) Central Office. The unit of private-sector workers represented by the PSC, voted to authorize their bargaining team to declare a strike, if necessary, rather than accept an insufficient raise offer. The workers have said that they do not want to strike, but in this era of high inflation they need a better offer. RF negotiators admit they have the money to offer more but say they are just unwilling to go higher.

Rather than continuing to work toward an agreement, RF management responded immediately by cutting off bargaining and rescinded a prior offer of retroactive pay. Two weeks later Cordero-Guzman sent his retaliatory email message. (See below.)

The PSC has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board and the RFCO bargaining committee has responded in writing to Cordero-Guzman. In their response, the committee called his retaliatory message “deeply disheartening, misleading, and…insulting.” They set the record straight about their reasonable salary demands and his mischaracterizations of their contract campaign. (See below.)

Throughout this struggle, members of the larger, public-sector PSC-CUNY bargaining unit have joined informational picket lines at the Research Foundation headquarters and sent social media and email messages to turn up the pressure on RF management. We may call on you again to demonstrate your solidarity. So, stay tuned!

 

Cordero-Guzman’s Retaliatory Message

From: Cordero-Guzman, Hector R.
Sent: Friday, June 2, 2023 3:30 PM
To: #RF Staff
Subject: State of emergency at RFCUNY as a result of PSC members vote to authorize a strike

Dear RFCUNY Staff,

The Research Foundation of CUNY (RFCUNY) and the PSC-CUNY, the union that represents about one hundred and four workers at the RFCUNY, have been in negotiations since November 7, 2022. The current contract was for 5 years and expired December 31, 2022.

Between November 7, 2022, and May 3, 2023, the RFCUNY staff and the union held twenty negotiating sessions. Of the fourteen initial PSC proposals (RFCUNY did not have any specific demands) tentative agreements have been reached on eight of them, four were withdrawn by the PSC, and two remain.  The eight proposals on which tentative agreements have been reached include:

  • Increase in longevity awards for 10 through 30 years of service
  • Increase in dental reimbursements for family members
  • Increase in life insurance coverage
  • Increase in health insurance waiver program
  • Addition of a grace period for arriving late to work
  • 60-day notice for changes to the remote work practice
  • Use of up to 20 days accrued sick leave for family members
  • Adoption of a Pledge of Compliance clause

The two remaining areas of negotiation are the annual increases for a five-year contract and a request from the PSC for a reduction in the employee healthcare contribution from 21% to 17%.

The current contract between the RFCUNY and the PSC called for increases of 2% per year over the five years of the contract or, in simple arithmetic (i.e., not compounded), about 10%. RFCUNY’s last offer to the PSC was for annual increases of 3.5% 3.5%, 3.25%, 3.25%, 3.25% (or about 16.75%) with a one-time $1,000 signing bonus (representing an additional 1% to 2% for the first year of the contract depending on the worker’s salary). In order to encourage the PSC to settle quickly, we said that we would only offer retroactive pay to the beginning of the month when the deal was reached.

For months the RFCUNY leadership was encouraging the union to come to an agreement, and we made clear the urgency of moving forward and making a deal before the external and internal climate deteriorated. The PSC-CUNY decided to drag its feet session after session; engage in public statements in social media and spreading misleading propaganda; launching scripted phone, email, and social media campaigns targeting the RFCUNY board of directors and leadership; filling the workplace with militant and divisive signs; and engaging in protests at the RFCUNY office–rather than negotiating in good faith at the bargaining table.  The PSC rejected RFCUNY’s last proposal and demanded that RFCUNY make additional increases to our offer.

Throughout the twenty-one negotiating sessions (session 21 took place May 18, 2023), RFCUNY leadership made it clear that we wanted to settle and give workers a raise, but the PSC decided to escalate at every turn and on May 18 they voted to authorize a strike on or after June 26, 2023. That was an unfortunate decision by the PSC and was designed, as stated in posts on the union website, to cause serious damage to the Research Foundation of CUNY and our customers. The authorization to strike is an existential threat to the organization, and we need to take all steps to protect RFCUNY, and ensure that our work can continue to be done for CUNY administrators, PIs, staff, and students.

A strike will be very disruptive to RFCUNY and our clients; threatens the quality work of the Research Foundation; destroys the stability that we have been trying to project and protect; has already cost the Research Foundation significantly in resources, time, and effort; and could potentially cost RFCUNY millions of dollars. The timing of the strike has been deliberately set by the PSC members to cause the maximum amount of negative reputational impact, financial damage, and disruption to the Research Foundation.

It is the responsibility of the RFCUNY leadership to protect the integrity, reputation, and work of the organization and protect the RFCUNY against all external and internal threats. We have been entrusted to manage millions of dollars of federal, state, city, and private funds and we cannot do that under a threat of any kind, particularly an internal threat.

No one, no one, cares about the RFCUNY workers more than we do. NO ONE. We hire you, we work with you, we care about you and your loved ones, we have worked very hard to make our workplace family and worker friendly, and many of us have been members of the PSC and have progressed through the organization. We care and we have demonstrated that with our words and with our actions.

But we cannot and will not stand by while there is a deliberate attempt to undermine the integrity, reputation, and quality work of our organization.

In order to plan for the strike approved by the PSC members, and mitigate the negative effects, we have been meeting as a management team to prepare for various scenarios involving a range of work actions potentially including a one, two, or three (or more) week strike. Every RFCUNY department has been asked to prepare and submit their specific contingency plan; to establish work priorities within their department; and to ensure all staff are available to provide coverage and organizational continuity during a strike.

We must take all needed steps to prepare for the strike approved by the members of PSC-CUNY and to mitigate the damage that their decision has caused to our reputation, to our finances and to our work process. To that end, we are declaring a state of emergency at the RFCUNY effective immediately. This state of emergency is a protective measure and a direct result and a consequence of the vote by the PSC members to authorize a strike at RFCUNY.

Effective immediately, the Research Foundation is forced to take the following steps:

i. No vacation or annual leave will be approved, and any such requests made after Friday 6/2/23 can be rescinded. We do have a right to rescind vacation after May 18th, the day the PSC members voted to authorize a strike, but are working very hard to minimize any additional disruptions to our staff during our state of emergency caused by the PSC vote to authorize a strike.

ii. All RFCUNY staff will return to 100% in person at the RFCUNY office starting Tuesday, June 20.

iii. RFCUNY will eliminate all accommodations other than those required by law.

iv. Any sick time taken during the strike, including care of a family member, will require documentation from a health practitioner.

After the strike contingency plans are completed by all departments, and as events warrant, RFCUNY will issue a communication to the field including CUNY leadership, GOs, Faculty (FAC and PIs), and all other relevant constituencies to ensure that all of our customers are clear on how we expect to manage the threat imposed on RFCUNY by the irresponsible, shortsighted, and counterproductive decision of the PSC to authorize a strike.

Thanks for your support of RFCUNY and for your perseverance during the challenging times ahead.

Hector

 

RFCO Bargaining Team’s Response

From: Chaung, Charles
Sent: Tuesday, June 6, 2023 5:58:11 PM
To: Cordero-Guzman, Hector R.
Subject: Re: State of emergency at RFCUNY as a result of PSC members vote to authorize a strike

Dear Hector,

First and foremost, the PSC is once again asking management to return to the bargaining table. Please keep in mind we did not walk away from the table, and it should be made clear that we have not called for a strike.

While we disagree with many of the points raised in your letter of June 2, 2023, we would like to make a few observations. Overall, we found it to be deeply disheartening, misleading, and, we regret to say, insulting.

Disheartening because, from the beginning of our good faith bargaining with you and the Research Foundation management, we have simply been seeking to negotiate wages and working conditions that will enable us to be effective employees and lead full lives. We have been reasonable and cooperative. By last month, we had reached many points of agreement with you, with two economic areas still on the table – salaries and health care. As you know, we are living through an unprecedented inflationary period. Our last contract provided us with 10% wage increases over five years during a period when actual prices increased over 20%. Inflation is still at a high now (23% since 2017, up 3% in just six months), and all economic forecasts see inflation as at least being 3% on average for the next five years. This means that even our first proposal at the table, of the higher of 4.5% or inflationary increases going forward, would not have made up for the deep decline in the real value of our salaries. The union’s current proposal is now only 1.75% over management’s most recent offer spread out over five years. If we settle at that, and if inflation only averages 3% for the next five years, we will still be making over 5% less in real dollars than we did in 2017. We are disheartened that management consistently dismissed the significance of the historic inflation and numbers we cited to make our case, and instead expects us to absorb even more of a pay decrease. Especially when we were told that we are greatly valued at the organization and that, “We are not claiming a lack of funds. We can afford a contract, we just have to be fair to everyone.” How is this fair?

Misleading because you have mischaracterized what it means to be part of a union campaign and to give the bargaining team strike authorization. All of the activities you described in your letter as being “opposed to good faith bargaining” – including writing letters, petitions, making calls, having signs visible in the workplace – are protected activities that are part of bargaining in good faith. You are surely familiar with the fact that the way that workers have risen out of poverty around the world is through collective actions like those you chose to disparage with terms like “propaganda” and “divisive.” Management is certainly familiar with the definitions of good and bad faith bargaining and knows that none of this is legally or even morally bad faith. More troubling, you have stated that our strike authorization vote was aimed to “cause serious damage to the Research Foundation of CUNY and its customers.” Strike authorization votes are another normal part of bargaining; in many workplaces they are taken as a matter of course in every round of bargaining. Even our public sector union siblings at CUNY have voted to authorize strikes twice in recent years.  The members have authorized the bargaining team to call a strike if an acceptable agreement cannot be reached. That is not the same as calling a strike. We would like to reach an acceptable agreement – we have not walked away from the table. If, as you say, no one cares as much about the workers as you do, then you should come back to the table.

Finally, we find it insulting that you accuse us of trying to “undermine the integrity, reputation, and quality work of our organization.” Our contract with the Research Foundation expired after three of the most difficult years that most of us have ever spent in our personal and professional lives. On a dime we became effective remote stewards of the many hundreds of grants that we administer, working closely with our Principal Investigators and each other to be sure that research could continue unabated. We have all chosen to dedicate our careers and full work lives to this institution, some of us for more than 35 years. Disparaging our intent, trying to make the union sound like it’s a third party to this fight, and threatening to take away vacation and remote work – these are all positions that undermine your claims of concern for us and our families.

The union was very hopeful when you were selected as the interim president and eventually became the president of the RF. As you have mentioned, when you joined the organization, the scene was like a funeral for someone you didn’t like: we had dealt with leadership that intentionally misled or lied to us about a “hiring freeze” when we were understaffed and overwhelmed, several scandals from bad apples at CUNY who tried to put blame on us, a threatening audit that challenged the existence of our organization, and the pandemic, which led to personal challenges and further losses in staff. We commend your tremendous efforts in hiring new staff and promoting existing members, as well as fighting to keep remote work against the wishes of the Board of Directors. We even came up with a creative solution for the remote work policy, resulting in a tentative agreement, because you assured us that you wanted to keep the 50% practice as long as possible. However, we were shocked when you walked away from the bargaining table and announced these seemingly punitive mandates to prepare for a strike – we don’t need to be in a state of emergency while we are so close to an agreement. And understandably, you may not appreciate our escalation tactics, as unions have little else they can do except to find ways to engage the leadership or public; we can agree to end them with continued bargaining efforts.

We look forward to a positive response. We look forward to a productive future. Let’s finish the contract negotiations and focus on creating a working environment based on mutual respect.

Sincerely,

Alexis Davis

Angela Reyes

Barbara Rose

Barbara Smalls

Charles Chaung

David Nabatov

Denise Xie

Desirelyn Haliburton

Evan Michelin

Frank Lebron

Keith Bonner

Nathaniel Bekti

Roger Waldron

Silvia Abad

Steve Lawrence

Victor Caceres

Timeline

May 24: Research Foundation Central Office Workers Vote in Favor of Strike Authorization


Published: February 3, 2023 | Last Modified: June 8, 2023

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