Union Distributes N-95 Masks as Protestors Demand Better COVID Policies and Oppose Adjunct Layoffs and Class Cancellations
New York, NY - Faculty and staff represented by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union rallied on January 28, 2022, the the first day of classes, at both Bronx Community College (BCC) and Medgar Evers College demanding university management act protect the health of students and workers, the jobs of adjunct faculty and the academic progress of students at The City University of New York.
Joined by New York State Assembly Members and City Council Members, the protesters distributed 1000 N-95 masks and pressed their demands for CUNY to:
- Allow classes to run with small rosters and shift courses online as needed so students stay on pace to graduation and adjunct faculty remain employed.
- Clarify and negotiate implementation of New York State’s employee vaccine mandate.
- Expand testing and provide masks to workers that reflect the CDC’s latest guidance.
Following a 70% CUNY requirement for in-person courses, enrollments are lower than expected at many campuses due to the pandemic. Responding to union pressure, local college administrations have allowed many courses to continue despite COVID-related under enrollment. But minimum class sizes vary by campus and adjuncts are still at risk for losing income and possibly their health insurance.
At Medgar Evers, 10% of in-person classes have already been canceled, and several other colleges are enacting comparable reductions.
"Educational institutions across our State have a responsibility to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are well-protected against the continued surge in COVID-19, while maintaining the ability to successfully learn and work— a responsibility which CUNY is not exempt from. CUNY management must adapt to meet the needs of its students and workers and prioritize their health and wellbeing. I am calling on the CUNY management to attend to the demands of the Professional Staff Congress union and utilize the resources at their disposal to protect the health of its students and workers, the jobs of adjunct faculty, and the academic progress of the community," said Senator Alessandra Biaggi of The Bronx and Westchester.
“I am proud to represent the 86th Assembly District, which includes CUNY’s Bronx Community College. CUNY students come from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by this deadly pandemic, and we need to ensure that when students, faculty, and staff return to campus, they are safe. CUNY schools including BCC must ensure COVID testing for all in advance of the semester, provide N-95 or equivalent masks, and expand surveillance testing in light of the Omicron variant. And, CUNY colleges like BCC should keep courses open and keep adjunct faculty employed. This is good for workers, who need the money and benefits, and good for students, who need a full complement of courses to graduate,” said Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia of The Bronx.
“I strongly support a centralized approach regarding health and safety on our CUNY campuses, which is a critical issue being elevated by PSC membership. Before I was elected to the City Council, I was a public school teacher, and taught my students through the pandemic. I know exactly what it is like to show up to work without knowing what circumstances the next day will bring. I am confident that CUNY will ensure faculty, professional staff, and students are adequately equipped to work and learn as we continue to endure this public health crisis,” said Council Member Eric Dinowitz, the new chair of the Council’s Committee on Higher Education from The Bronx.
“In the last two years, we have rightly and frequently applauded our city’s educators for their heroism throughout the pandemic. Yet at a moment when CUNY’s faculty and staff are asking for greater transparency and basic workplace protections, the administration has not followed its praise with meaningful action. The demands are clear: come to the negotiating table in good faith, provide workplace protections, and work with faculty and staff to address the impact of under enrollment. I'm proud to voice my solidarity with PSC's members and fight for a safer, more equitable CUNY for all,” said Council Member Crystal Hudson from Brooklyn.
"As a former public school teacher who taught at our city's schools for 22 years, I know first-hand the importance of quality public education, including higher education. Anything less than robust testing, clear COVID guidance, small class sizes, and full staff employment at CUNY campuses is unacceptable. I stand in full solidarity with the students and staff of Bronx Community College & Medgar Evers College in their fight for fairness," said Council Member Rita Joseph from Brooklyn.
Medgar Evers College and Bronx Community College were among the worst offending colleges during the mass adjunct layoffs of 2020, even targeting the longest serving adjuncts who qualified for three-year appointments.
Much of the $854 million in emergency stimulus money allocated to CUNY for pandemic relief is still unspent. CUNY is not facing the mid-year budget cuts of 2020. The resources exist to run courses with small rosters and keep adjuncts employed, and college presidents should move to stabilize the Spring schedule while the impact of COVID persists.
Since Governor Hochul’s January 5th announcement of a vaccine mandate for SUNY and CUNY, the union has yet to receive CUNY management’s proposed implementation plan or have the basic questions of union members clarified. Administrators have also failed to meet critical health and safety demands.