Unions, Community Orgs, Elected Officials Press CUNY to Negotiate a Competitive Contract for 30,000 Faculty and Staff
New York—With their union contract four days expired, hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff represented by the Professional Staff Congress kicked off an energetic contract campaign tonight in midtown. The kick-off—a press conference, rallies at two CUNY campuses, disruptions of the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting, a lighted march, and a 25-foot light-up sign—pressed the CUNY trustees to negotiate an agreement that protects CUNY quality and helps students to succeed.
Standing with community groups, other union leaders, elected officials and CUNY students, PSC President Barbara Bowen explained that a good contract for CUNY faculty and staff is good for all New Yorkers.
“There would be no New York without CUNY. CUNY is the single most successful university in the country in enabling poor and working-class graduates to achieve long-term economic security. Yet leading professors consistently turn down positions at CUNY and many current professors leave because the salaries are so uncompetitive. CUNY faculty salaries are significantly lower than those at Rutgers, Stony Brook, Fordham and Pace University. The most damaging result of planned underinvestment in CUNY is the University’s reliance on grossly underpaid part-time faculty, ‘adjuncts,’ to teach more than half of the courses. It’s time for the CUNY trustees to provide decent salaries at CUNY; anything less is an admission that the education—and the future—of New York’s working people and their families does not matter,” Bowen said.
PSC members won raises and back pay in their last contract after a six-year struggle and a strike authorization vote. But CUNY’s full-time faculty are still underpaid compared to faculty at comparable institutions and CUNY adjuncts still earn near-poverty wages. Academic staff, whom students count on in counseling and administrative offices, libraries and labs, are overworked and underpaid. As a result, CUNY struggles to recruit and retain the leading staff and faculty its 500,000 students deserve. Student success and graduation rates suffer.
To keep the best faculty and staff working at CUNY where New Yorkers need them, the PSC is demanding competitive salaries for all and significant increases for part-time faculty—to $7,000 per course. Improvements to students’ learning conditions, better job security, and protection of academic integrity and faculty rights in online education are also part of the PSC bargaining agenda.
“Year after year, as CUNY has been underfunded by New York City and State, it has slashed costs by employing thousands of part-time faculty, who are paid far less per course than full-time faculty. Today, there are 12,000 adjunct faculty at CUNY, many with PhDs and other high-level credentials. We now teach the majority of CUNY courses—yet thousands of us live on $27,000 a year or less. There are adjuncts on food stamps. The CUNY trustees have accepted this unacceptable situation for too long. It’s time for them to find a solution and bring per-course payment to $7,000. We teach at CUNY despite the pitiful pay because we believe in CUNY’s mission, but we are sick and tired of being exploited by the University in return,” said Susan DiRaimo, adjunct at Lehman College and the union’s vice president for part-time personnel.
All of New York has a stake in the success of CUNY students. Elected officials, labor leaders and community leaders who represent and serve New Yorkers who depend on CUNY showed their support.
“For New York to remain on top tomorrow, we need to ensure CUNY thrives today. That’s why every faculty and staff member deserves a fair contract, with fair wages. It will help ensure CUNY delivers best-in-class offerings with the best staff anywhere. And it’s the right thing to do,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.
“The key element in Higher Education success is the ability of students to get the courses they want and need with a full-time professor available to them for follow-up and mentoring. Without proper state support, the quality education we’ve worked hard to ensure will erode along with our promises to this generation of future leaders,” said Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, chair of the Higher Education Committee.
“CUNY’s faculty and staff are among the best in the world, and the quality education they provide to New York City’s students helps prepare them to take their place in a global workforce. These workers have continued to provide this quality education despite being compensated at levels much lower than comparable positions at other local colleges and universities. The New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO is proud to stand with the Professional Staff Congress as it heads to the bargaining table to help secure the wages and benefits needed for its members to live with dignity in our city,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
“We are calling on CUNY’s administration to give PSC workers a strong wage increase as soon as possible. These members of this union are teachers to our children and play a large role in fostering the next generation of New York City leaders. We owe it to them to recognize their work appropriately. The last negotiation took an unconscionable six years to settle. There is no excuse for this to happen again and we will not accept threats of tuition increases as a ploy to pit workers against students. Rather than repeat the failed strategy of holding workers’ families and finances hostage, CUNY should negotiate in good faith so that these dedicated employees can plan for their futures with peace of mind. All union workers deserve on-time contracts, and we are proud to support our brothers and sisters in negotiating for the wages and benefits they have rightfully earned,” said Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association (Local 831) and chair of the NYC Municipal Labor Committee.
“DC37 members stand in solidarity with our PSC sisters and brothers and all the hardworking men and women at CUNY who provide the environment that makes CUNY one of the finest public university systems the nation,” said Henry Garrido, executive director, District Council 37.
“For decades, the state has disinvested in the CUNY system, resulting in inadequate wages and poor working conditions for staff and faculty. WFP stands with the members of the Professional Staff Congress as they enter negotiations for just wages, benefits and better working conditions that will allow staff and faculty to provide the affordable, world-class education CUNY students rightfully deserve,” said Bill Lipton, New York State director, Working Families Party.
“CUNY is the backbone of higher education in our communities. Low-income communities of color depend on CUNY for a high quality, affordable education. To maintain a high-quality staff and faculty, we need competitive wages and salaries. And we need to ensure that part-time staff are paid a living wage in one of the most expensive cities in America. In order to protect CUNY as a lifeblood for our communities, we need to protect its most precious resource, the staff,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director, New York Communities for Change.
“Working people across the city, including RAP members, see a CUNY education as the means to create better opportunities and a better future for themselves and their families. Insuring the quality of CUNY education is a must. We stand with the PSC because professors, both tenured and adjunct, deserve a fair contract that allows them to provide the quality education that working New Yorkers need. When we stand with the PSC for a fair contract we’re not just standing with the union and the professors; we are standing with New York’s working families,” said Phil Andrews, Retail Action Project (RAP).
“As the parent of a current CUNY student and a longtime advocate for public education, I see firsthand the disinvestment Albany has chosen to make in our public institutions. To add insult to injury, CUNY faculty and staff are severely underpaid and, as a result, the University is unable to recruit and retain staff. As they work tirelessly to provide a high quality higher education to the neediest students in our communities, we too must demand that CUNY faculty and staff get a fair contract. We must provide a quality education for the New Yorkers who depend on CUNY,” said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director, Alliance for Quality Education.
“The University Student Senate stands in solidarity with the faculty and staff of CUNY. The Professional Staff Congress is leading the cause, and a win for them is a win for the 500,000 students within the CUNY system. Students count on the University as a vehicle for upward mobility, a means to a better life. And students deserve access to the leading faculty and staff in their perspective fields. A quality education can only come from a University that is willing to invest in its facility and staff. We ask the University to negotiate a fully funded contract that ensures quality and good learning conditions for us as students and fair pay for faculty and staff, including adjuncts,” said Yssed David Tobo, Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs, University Student Senate, CUNY.
The Professional Staff Congress (NYSUT, AFT #2334) represents almost 30,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff at the City University of New York. PSC members educate hundreds of thousands of mostly low-income New Yorkers, the majority from communities of color.