We’ve been in touch about several important matters since taking office at the end of May, from health and safety in reopening, to changes in retiree health insurance, to the city budget and CUNY’s use of federal stimulus funds. If there were ever a time that faculty and staff needed a strong union, that time is now. Together we can generate the solidarity needed to wage important struggles. The Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People passed by the Delegate Assembly on June 10 has emerged as a test of that solidarity for some, and we are hopeful that we can come out of it a stronger union by working together.
The four of us, as principal officers, voted against the June 10 resolution, despite differences among ourselves about the issues it raises. We believed it risked dividing our membership on an issue over which the PSC has little influence, and we ultimately found the resolution flawed in substance and process. The resolution passed with strong support from delegates and, shortly thereafter, we wrote to you about its passage and to assure members that we would continue to focus on the main work of the union at this crucial moment.
We’d like to make the resolution process clear. An initial resolution was drafted in May by three committees. We and the new PSC Executive Council opposed the resolution, and the EC submitted a substitute resolution that did not presuppose the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as the framework for chapter conversations. Delegates amended the substitute resolution several times during deliberations and the amended resolution passed The committees and the Delegate Assembly adhered to the PSC constitution and policy on resolutions. But the process that led to the June 10 resolution reveals a need, in our view, to modify our policy and practices regarding resolutions in order to enhance member engagement and affirm the representative role of the delegates.
There are sharp divisions among some PSC members about Israel and Palestine. The PSC has pressing challenges in front of us, campaigns that must build power and trust among colleagues. The relationship between our work as an academic labor union and the contentious issue of Israel and Palestine is not self-evident, and dialogue and political education should have preceded, not followed from, a Delegate Assembly vote. Some union members feel that their representatives voted hastily and without consultation after the academic year ended. They have raised concerns about union democracy and transparency, in addition to objections to the content of the resolution. Dozens have resigned membership.
As principal officers, we are taking the following steps:
- We are contacting every member who requests resignation from the union, listening to their objections, and engaging in a forthright dialogue. Many chapter leaders are contributing to this effort.
- The summer issue of Clarion will include a forum of letters and statements on the resolution.
- We encourage delegates, each of whom represents 100 chapter members, to engage with their colleagues about the DA deliberation and their votes.
- We are working with the Executive Council on recommending modifications to the union’s 2017 policy on resolutions to ensure time for delegates to share non-urgent resolutions with members in the chapters.
As a new team of principal officers, we are eager to attend chapter meetings this fall to meet PSC members, whether on Zoom or, if conditions permit, in person.
In addition to sincere expressions of distress from members, an opportunistic campaign is also underway to persuade members to resign. After the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision deprived public-sector unions of the right to collect agency fees from workers they represent, regardless of their membership status, the forces behind the Janus lawsuit went to work undermining unions. Anti-labor groups like the Manhattan Institute and New Choice NY created websites with pre-scripted membership resignation letters and glossy mailers instructing employees to resign membership if they disagree with a position the union takes. Their intent is to weaken organized labor. When employees disagree with a position their union takes, they should seek to change it from within, not relinquish their vote and their voice. We recognize and regret the real distress this resolution provoked, but we also oppose the opportunism it has occasioned for people who are not PSC members to sow discord in the union.
Three years after the Janus decision, the PSC has a strong and stable membership base because we have protected members’ rights at work and their health and safety on the job. It was the PSC that ensured that faculty and staff shifted to remote work at the start of the pandemic, the PSC that won the right to conduct pre-occupancy walkthroughs of every building slated to reopen this fall, and the PSC that recently moved CUNY to exercise caution and postpone the return-to-work target. We continue to prioritize these issues now.
Over years of fighting to make CUNY a better place to study and work, the PSC has engaged deeply with issues of social justice, international politics, and human rights. We reject the opposition between “bread-and-butter” union issues and broader social policy, but we feel that such campaigns should unify and strengthen the union. Further discussion of the June 10 resolution must respect the many divergent points of view among members. The union represents all faculty and professional staff, and as chapters address this resolution, inclusive, considered discussion is paramount.
We are determined, as principal officers, to keep our union focused and resilient in order to reach our common goals. The PSC has advocated tenaciously for quality public higher education and social justice. As we recover from the pandemic and head toward another round of contract negotiations, our challenges are greater than ever, and we need all of us in the fight.
James Davis, President
Andrea Vásquez, First Vice President
Felicia Wharton, Treasurer
Penny Lewis, Secretary