The letter below was sent on March 14, 2020 to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez.
Dr. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez
Chancellor, The City University of New York
205 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017
Dear Chancellor Matos Rodríguez:
The time has come for all work performed at CUNY to be performed remotely. Public health recommendations have changed even in the last few days, and it has now become clear that avoiding all unnecessary social contact is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Avoiding social contact is impossible while traveling to work in a crowded city like New York and continuing to work in close proximity to others. Protective measures that may have seemed adequate earlier in the week are not adequate now.
Therefore the PSC calls on the University to mandate that all work performed by PSC-represented employees be performed remotely, through telework or other distance technology. All PSC-represented employees should be directed not to come to work starting on Monday, and those who are able to perform their work remotely should begin immediately working from home or other remote location. The period between Monday, March 16, and Thursday, March 19, should be used as a “service recess,” during which normal responsibilities of professional staff and non-classroom faculty are put on hold and supervisors make arrangements for such responsibilities to be fulfilled remotely. By March 19, all professional staff work and non-classroom faculty work should be performed through distance technology, just as teaching will be.
Work by PSC-represented employees should continue to be performed remotely at least through the end of the semester, and possibly longer, depending on how long the pandemic continues. All PSC-represented employees, including non-teaching hourly employees, must continue to receive their full pay without interruption.
If essential functions such as completing payroll or maintaining computer functions require occasional on-campus work by a very limited number of employees, the PSC is prepared to discuss with the University how those functions can be performed and compensated.
We are aware that the University provided guidance to the college presidents on telework and flexible scheduling. Some college presidents notified employees that telework would be arranged, but others have told employees that working remotely would not be permitted. At this stage in a public health crisis, guidance and college-by-college approaches are no longer sufficient. It is grossly unfair—and bad policy—for employees at one college to be treated in a way that prioritizes their safety while employees at another college are expected to work under conditions that increase the risk of serious illness or death for themselves or others. There must be a central, clear, comprehensive statement that the University will now be functioning remotely. There is no alternative if the safety of the CUNY community is to be protected.
Transferring the work of professional staff and non-classroom faculty to distance technology will take imagination, but it can be done. The staff and non-classroom faculty are already thinking about how they can continue to serve students and complete their work through distance means. They are dedicated and creative. We can learn from them. The PSC is confident that most responsibilities can be fulfilled from an off-campus location, even if not exactly in the way they were fulfilled in the past.
This is not a normal time, and it will not be a normal semester. Both classroom and non-classroom work will have to be performed in new ways. Neither faculty nor staff should be evaluated in the traditional ways during this semester, and there must be no repercussions for those whose work cannot be performed or supervised normally. The members of the PSC are prepared to work with you to make CUNY work, but only if we can do so without endangering our own health and the health of the community. Even with a switch to working remotely, there are several issues the PSC will need to discuss with you in greater detail, and we are pleased that we will have an opportunity to start the discussion at our meeting next week.
PSC members want to work. We want to keep supporting CUNY students and we want students to be able to continue their education. But in a public health crisis, priorities must shift. The University’s first priority must now be to avoid endangering employees and students. Students’ ability to finish the semester, as important as that is for the students who rely on CUNY, must be the second priority. The health and safety of students, employees and the city must now come first.
Finally, we call on CUNY to provide a single, clear contact number for any students or employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. All members of the CUNY community must know how to report a diagnosis of coronavirus and must be encouraged to do so. The PSC also seeks to work with you and the other unions at CUNY on measures to ensure that workplaces where a person diagnosed with COVID-19 has been present have been sufficiently decontaminated.
I speak only for PSC-represented employees, of course, but please know that the PSC supports all other CUNY workers, unionized or not, as they seek the protections they need. None of us wants to look back on this crisis and think that we put anything—even the education of the students we love—before the safety of the students themselves, the workers and the city.
I request a response by midday on Sunday. Thank you.
cc: Members of the PSC Bargaining Unit
Henry Garrido, Executive Director, AFSCME DC37
Gregory Floyd, President, Teamsters Local 237
James J. Claffy, Jr., President, IATSE Local 1