A Message from Outgoing PSC President Barbara Bowen
May 28, 2021
Dear PSC Members,
Today I step down from the PSC presidency and gratefully rejoin the rank and file of our union. Thank you for reading so many messages from me through the years! And thank you for entrusting me with the leadership of the union. It has been the privilege of a lifetime.
When the current leadership first took office in 2000, our aim was to make the PSC a fighting union. Thanks to you, individually and collectively, that’s what the PSC has become. This week alone saw an edgy demonstration by the Brooklyn PSC chapter about spending federal stimulus funds and a demonstration planned for next week at BMCC. PSC members and students will protest at BMCC on Tuesday against racist austerity, CUNY’s failure to rehire laid-off adjuncts, and the racist defacement of a college building. These events come after a PSC town hall on reopening earlier this month that drew 1500 participants and the release of the union’s detailed safety standards this morning.
None of these actions would have been possible without an active membership. What I love about the union we have built together is that members have risked investing some part of their political hope—whether for a better university, a better city or even a better world—in the work of the union. All a leader of such a union can do is try to be worthy of people in struggle.
In a historical period of anti-worker organizing and obscene income inequality, the PSC was strong at the bargaining table because we did not limit our horizon to bargaining. We refused to accept that sub-par working conditions for staff and faculty are inevitable at an institution that serves primarily people of color, the working class and the poor. We challenged the racist austerity policies that underlie our working conditions and understood the fight for a contract as a fight for our students’ right to a beautiful, imaginative, life-changing education.
As a result, we were able to break years of contractual stalemate and win salary increases, paid parental leave, improved Welfare Fund benefits, increased sabbatical pay, targeted raises to address inequities of race and gender, health insurance for adjuncts, professional staff salary differentials, paid adjunct office hours, junior faculty research leave, professional development funds, graduate employee health insurance, dedicated sick leave, improvements in the reclassification system, gains in annual leave, a reduction in the teaching load, three-year appointments for adjuncts, and more.
The PSC unapologetically asserted that unions are strongest when they work in the interest of all workers and their communities, not just of their own members. PSC members defeated a half-billion-dollar cut to CUNY imposed by Governor Cuomo in 2016 and advanced our own vision of a free and fully funded CUNY. We worked with students and their communities to develop the New Deal for CUNY, legislation that reimagines the University. Over the last six months the New Deal for CUNY has ignited support in Albany, and an equally ambitious proposal for the City is rapidly gaining ground. It introduces payments in lieu of taxes by the rich untaxed private universities, with the income dedicated to supporting CUNY.
At the same time, PSC members pushed our national union to reverse its support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; campaigned against stop-and-frisk, against racist travel bans and for the rights of undocumented students; supported teachers’ and workers’ struggles in this country and internationally; and worked to keep our students and each other safe during this traumatic year.
Anyone who steps down from leadership, however, must be sharply aware of what has been left undone. Although the PSC has defeated the worst austerity proposals in Albany and won new funds, CUNY is still desperately, deliberately underfunded. And although the PSC achieved major gains against the exploitation of adjunct labor, we have not yet won full pay parity and job security for CUNY’s teaching majority, its adjunct faculty. CUNY management continues to race toward increasing contingency, and we are still in a fight to restore the positions of the adjuncts CUNY preemptively laid off last spring.
What gives me hope, though, is our membership and the stirrings of political change. Consider the extraordinary way the entire faculty and staff reimagined our work in a matter of days to keep CUNY going during the pandemic, the hundreds of members who have been trained by other members to monitor the safety of their own workplaces, the outpouring of members joining anti-racist protests last summer and organizing anti-racism coalitions on the campuses, the thousands of members who have rallied, marched, petitioned, testified and risked arrest in PSC actions, the members whose artwork and anger has fueled the recent demonstrations to free the federal funds and reject racialized austerity.
A year ago I would not have imagined that the New York State budget would include $2 billion for undocumented essential workers, achieved largely through a tax increase on the rich. Nor would I have predicted federal stimulus funding in the billions of dollars for higher education. And few observers foresaw that the structural inequities laid bare by the pandemic, together with the murder of George Floyd, would spark a massive, sustained, worldwide demand to abolish racism.
The coming years may see new openings for political change, and I believe the PSC is in a position both to contribute to and expand those openings. We have a membership with imagination and courage, and a new leadership ready to make the possible real. James Davis, Andrea Vásquez, Felicia Wharton and Penny Lewis come to their positions with proven success as leaders and organizers for the current political moment—they bring intelligence, commitment, energy and strategic sophistication. I wish them joy in the work.
And I thank the staff of the PSC, who work their hearts out every day for our members, and the principal officers who have served with me in PSC leadership: Steve London, Mike Fabricant, Cecelia McCall, John Hyland, Arthurine De Sola, and my sisterhood for the past term—Andrea Vásquez, Sharon Persinger and Nivedita Majumdar. Only they know how much I owe them.
Thank you, PSC members, for your generosity to me and each other, for your challenges, your criticisms, and your hope. I’ll see you in the fight.