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PSC prepares for potential legal action against layoffs

Jun 12, 2020

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Dear PSC Members,

Earlier today, the PSC legal counsel sent CUNY’s legal counsel a formal request for information. The union is requesting the information in order to prepare for potential litigation, if necessary, concerning CUNY’s use of federal stimulus funding during the coronavirus crisis.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748), or the “CARES Act,” which was signed into law on March 27, provides for more than $250 million in federal funding to be allocated to CUNY colleges. The amount includes funds based on the number of students at each college and the portion of low-income students, plus additional targeted funding for minority-serving institutions. The funds are allocated to each college individually, based on the college’s student population.

Under the provisions of the CARES Act, at least $118 million of the funds allocated to CUNY must be used to provide emergency financial aid to students. CUNY management reports that the University has distributed, or is in the process of distributing, those funds to students in need. But where is the rest of the funding? Even if CUNY is waiting for the final transfer of the funding from the federal government, there is no justification for colleges to implement cuts and layoffs when committed federal funding could help to avert them.

Despite numerous requests by the PSC for transparency about CUNY’s use of CARES Act funds and a public letter citing the CARES Act signed by more than 35 New York legislators, the CUNY administration has failed to provide full information to the CUNY community about its allocation of CARES Act funding. At a City Council hearing this week, CUNY’s chief financial officer testified that the University has received CARES Act funding that must be directed to emergency financial grants to students, and that an additional $132 million will be available for institutional needs arising from the pandemic.

The CARES Act, Section 18004, specifies that stimulus money provided under the Education Stabilization Fund may be used “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” Section 18006 adds a further critical requirement. The section, titled “Continued Payment to Employees,” reads in full:

A local educational agency, State, institution of higher education, or other entity that receives funds under “Education Stabilization Fund”, shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.

John Jay College has announced planned layoffs of more than 400 adjuncts, Brooklyn College has called for course reductions of 25 percent, and the College of Staten Island has called for even deeper cuts. The PSC is seeking information about how these announcements can be made while CUNY colleges expect to receive $132 million in institutional CARES Act funds, and when the CARES Act requires colleges to keep employees on payroll “to the greatest extent practicable.”

With a June 30 deadline looming for notification of adjunct appointments, and announcements already made about termination of some Continuing Education programs and positions at CUNY, the PSC needs to prepare to take action, including legal action if necessary, to ensure that CUNY has complied with the provisions of the Act. The request for information sent today is part of our preparation.

The New York State delegation to Congress fought hard for the CARES Act funds and made sure that higher education funding was included in the enacted bill. Our national union, the AFT, was an aggressive and influential advocate for education funding in the Act. The AFT advocated specifically for higher education funding, in part because of the information other higher education union leaders and I have offered about the devastating effect of budget cuts on public universities. As New Yorkers and members of the American Federation of Teachers, we in the PSC have a stake in making sure CUNY receives all the funding to which it is entitled and that it allocates the funds in an appropriate and transparent way-including to prevent layoffs.

I will update you when we receive a reply to our information request. Potential legal action is only one part of the PSC’s campaign against cuts and layoffs at CUNY. Our greatest strength is you, the union membership, taking action together. We in the PSC are the voice for each other and for preserving CUNY.

You can take one action right now. Sign up to let us know that you will join the Stand Together for CUNY protest virtually or in person on Tuesday, June 23 at 5:00 p.m. to demand that no cuts or layoffs are enacted. The PSC will take our message to the streets-safely, distantly-in a line stretching from CUNY’s midtown headquarters toward Governor Cuomo’s NYC office. Join us in person if you can, on social media if you can’t. The PSC is in this fight to win it. Too much is at stake now to do anything less.

In solidarity,
Barbara Bowen
President, PSC/CUNY

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