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Demand remote work and vaccine mandate from CUNY

Dec 29, 2021

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December 29, 2021

Dear PSC members,

During an unprecedented COVID surge, with case counts breaking every record, many CUNY employees have been required to continue working in person. The two weeks leading up to December 28 saw a 664% increase in infections in New York City. Hospitalization rates are now 30% higher across NY state than they were two weeks ago, and in the past week alone, hospitalizations increased 75% in Brooklyn, 96% in Manhattan, and nearly 100% in the Bronx, according to CDC data. Already, needless deaths—among the unvaccinated, the immune suppressed, and those in need of critical care made impossible due to an overstressed health care system—are occurring here and around the country. The number of children hospitalized for COVID in New York City has quadrupled since the first week of December.

True regard for individual and community health would dictate that in a situation evolving as quickly as this one, CUNY should encourage anyone whose job does not require in person work to avoid coming in. Like other universities in the area, including NYU, Columbia, Barnard, Rutgers, The New School, Fashion Institute of Technology, and many others, CUNY should be encouraging its workforce to be remote if possible, and move in-person classes to remote while the public health implications of this wave evolve. Unlike many universities and New York City agencies, CUNY lacks a vaccine mandate for employees and should be bargaining with the union over implementation. Without this safeguard, CUNY’s decision to continue business as usual during the current COVID surge shows a callous disregard for the health and safety of faculty, staff, students, and the communities we serve.

We have repeatedly communicated our concerns to CUNY leaders and attach two of these recent communications below. We are gratified to learn that on some campuses, employees who don’t absolutely need to come in have been advised to work remotely. But this should be official policy across the university during this fraught and uncertain moment. And given the disparate rates of infection and disease severity between unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals, the lack of a vaccine mandate from CUNY flies in the face of public health.

Please contact the Chancellor, your college president or school dean, and your campus COVID liaison, urging them to allow for remote work and to bargain with the union over a vaccine mandate. For anyone who is expecting to report to work in the coming weeks, we encourage you to write collectively with your colleagues to request the option of remote work directly from your supervisors and/or administration. Together, we can move CUNY toward a healthier and safer Spring semester. But CUNY must act now.

In solidarity,

James Davis, President
Andrea Vásquez, First Vice President
Felicia Wharton, Treasurer
Penny Lewis, Secretary
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

 

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Letter to College Presidents and Coronavirus Liaisons, December 23, 2021

This week the CUNY administration failed to prioritize the health and safety of employees and students, maintaining regular in-person operations even as the Omicron variant surged through the region. In so doing, the administration also failed to prioritize the city’s health and safety, as they placed at risk family members and others with whom their employees and students come into regular contact.

With one work week before the holiday break, and families planning to gather for the first time in months, if not years, the administration could have implemented a remote work schedule for non-essential employees through at least the beginning of the new year. That could have happened without compromising academic and operational continuity. Instead, the dangerous decision was to continue requiring anyone without an individual remote work agreement to report in person, entailing, for many, the use of public transportation. This, while the city’s hospitals again became overextended, lines for testing grew longer by the day, and infection rates throughout the city skyrocketed. Preliminary research suggests that in most cases Omicron infections are milder than other variants, especially among those vaccinated and boostered. But a public health approach looks not only at individual cases of infection but also at the impact on families, communities, and cities when any highly transmissible COVID variant takes hold and propagates. Inexplicably, that is not the approach the CUNY administration chose to take.

The CUNY administration should correct course immediately. New York State approved CUNY’s 18-page plan for Continuity of Operations for a State Disaster Emergency Involving a Communicable Disease. If it is not implemented now, then when?

Our communication to the Chancellor last weekend is pasted below.

Sincerely,

James Davis, President
Andrea Vásquez, First Vice President
Felicia Wharton, Treasurer
Penny Lewis, Secretary
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

 

Letter to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez, December 19, 2021

The scale of the recent COVID surge in the city and the tri-state area has us deeply concerned. I’m sure you share that concern and are consulting regularly with state and city health authorities. Various private universities in the state and city have reduced their on-campus presence in response to alarming rates of infection. I’m writing to urge you to take the following measures to keep employees and students safe while maintaining academic and operational continuity.

For the professional staff: Starting now through the end of January, non-essential employees should be given the choice to work remotely. CUNY should make a new assessment mid-January about the expectations for in-person and remote work in Spring 2022 semester.

For faculty and students: Winter intersession should be fully online. CUNY should take the current COVID surge as an occasion to re-evaluate the 70% in-person minimum across the university in Spring 2022 semester.

For the CUNY community and the city: CUNY should seek the Governor’s consent to initiate negotiations with the labor unions representing CUNY employees on implementation of a COVID vaccine mandate with the goal to implement prior to the start of Spring 2022 semester.

The number of new COVID cases in the tri-state area has not been this high since late January 2021, according to CDC data. In NYC, the 14-day average of daily infections is up 194% today, according to the New York Times. This is the time to take decisive action and exercise the prudence demanded by these rapidly worsening conditions.

James Davis, President, PSC/CUNY


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