Dear PSC colleagues,
The Fall semester begins this week at most CUNY colleges. The excitement of the return and the opportunity to greet students and colleagues new and old is invigorating, even as we meet the challenges that have accompanied the COVID pandemic since March 2020. PSC members have risen to the occasion over and over, supporting students, learning new ways to work, and helping others while getting our own jobs done. As before COVID, CUNY depends on our good work. That is our power. Collectively, we are forging a better vision of what work at the nation’s largest public urban university should look like, and we are winning the public investments that will help to achieve our vision of CUNY, the people’s university.
The academic year 2022-2023 will be a pivotal one for all of us at CUNY and a busy year for the union. Health and safety remain a priority. Our current contract, which includes raises for teaching adjuncts on August 25 and an across-the-board raise on November 1, expires on February 28, 2023. The campaign to win support for a fully funded contract and the New Deal for CUNY enters a new phase this Fall. We will keep fighting to protect jobs, expand the ranks of the full-time faculty and staff, and advocate that colleges Hire from Within for Excellence and Justice. The work of campus chapters and PSC committees and the push to grow our membership and amplify our members’ voices in Albany and City Hall, will continue. And all this will happen as we celebrate the PSC’s golden anniversary year (RSVP for the 50th Anniversary Picnic this Sunday!).
COVID | Health and Safety
The CUNY Provost’s recent guidance to the university community about return-to-campus protocols prohibits faculty not only from requiring students to wear a mask in class but even from requesting it, because masking on campus is voluntary and a “request may be interpreted as a requirement” coming from an instructor. We contacted the Chancellor on August 1 and again yesterday objecting to this misguided policy and we plan to file a grievance against CUNY to contest its legitimacy. One need not support a return to mask mandates to recognize how problematic it is for CUNY to expressly forbid employees, some of whom have elevated vulnerabilities to COVID, from even making a request of students about mask-wearing in the current environment. CUNY’s own COVID FAQ site says, “When levels are high, we urge you to wear a mask in public indoor spaces – for your safety and that of those around you,” and levels remain high throughout NYC, so the prohibition against faculty requests is incongruous. As our challenge to the Chancellor indicates, we must do better. If you agree, please contact the Chancellor immediately to let him know.
This summer the PSC made progress in impact bargaining with CUNY on the remote work policy, the COVID vaccine policy, and other issues. These negotiations continue this semester. The vast majority of PSC members are vaccinated. We are nonetheless committed to fairness and equity in the implementation of COVID policies at CUNY and will ensure that members who fail to comply with CUNY’s vaccine policy are afforded their due process rights and contractual protections. (Q&A about the Agreement on Medical and Religious Exemptions.) The PSC lawsuit, which challenges CUNY’s implementation of the vaccine mandate to include only 3/4 of its workforce, is making its way through the court system. A ruling has not yet been issued. To be clear, we have not challenged CUNY’s right to adopt a COVID vaccine mandate, but rather the arbitrary and inconsistent implementation of its current policy.
Our contract expires on February 28, 2023. With input from members on every campus and a union-wide contract priorities survey completed by more than 9,000 members, we are preparing for the next round of bargaining. Salary gains, better terms and working conditions, including flexible schedules, substantial investment in equity, professional respect and autonomy, and support for educational excellence are among the priorities that members conveyed. We look forward to sharing the survey data with PSC members in September. We will be bargaining for our members and their families in these negotiations, but also to improve educational quality for CUNY students and to continue addressing institutional racism at CUNY. We are committed to an inclusive process that engages and informs our members and leads to a just contract that we all deserve. Get involved by attending your union chapter’s first meeting and participating in your Campus Action Team (CAT). CATs will continue their efforts to organize member-to-member, reaching as many academic departments and offices as possible, and mobilizing for a town hall meeting in October and a citywide action later this fall. The principal officers attended meetings of nearly every PSC chapter last semester – we are grateful for these opportunities, inspired by your insights and ideas, and eager to continue conversations this fall.
Budget Campaign | New Deal for CUNY
Our budget and contract campaigns are closely linked – operational support for CUNY directly affects the terrain on which we conduct negotiations and organize for our demands. For the first time in more than a decade, the 2022 State budget broke with the familiar austerity framework, thanks to our members’ vigorous advocacy. In coalition with the CUNY Rising Alliance, the PSC advanced our campaign for the New Deal for CUNY, the Governor committed to increasing public higher education funding statewide by $1.5 billion over five years, and CUNY’s annual operating aid grew by $220 million, plus $1 billion in new capital funding. The Tuition Assistance Program was expanded and reformed. Dedicated new funding for campus child care centers, mental health counseling, and hundreds of full-time faculty lines also reflected New Deal for CUNY priorities. However, we have much more to win to address the decades-long erosion of State support for CUNY, and the struggle for free tuition for undergraduate students continues. We will also need to prepare aggressively for a City budget struggle, as the results of 2022 were decidedly mixed: several important programmatic investments, but no clear vision for CUNY from the Mayor with two CUNY degrees, and the same 3% cut to which City agencies were subjected. We need a bold, sharp campaign to improve City funding for CUNY. Please consider participating in the PSC’s vibrant Legislation Committee, help expand the reach of the CUNY Rising Alliance into your community organizations and neighborhood groups, and recruit even more state legislators to co-sponsor New Deal for CUNY legislation.
Saving Jobs | Hiring from Within
Nearly 2,500 CUNY students, faculty, and staff signed the PSC petition to stabilize the Fall schedule. The petition, press coverage, and pressure we brought to bear at labor-management meetings and through elected allies helped to save jobs and keep students on track to graduate. But some instructors still lost course assignments. Enrollments are down, especially at the community colleges, and contingency remains a fixture of CUNY’s exploitative labor system. Colleges are in the process of hiring more than 500 new full-time faculty with the state funding that our union secured in the last budget campaign. There should be more full-time faculty and staff hires as the governor’s multi-year reinvestment in CUNY and our New Deal for CUNY campaign yield further results. New full-time lines are also opportunities for adjunct faculty, many of whom have long-standing records of effective teaching at CUNY, to attain a secure appointment, and for departments to diversify their faculty ranks.
We hope to see many PSC members at this Sunday’s 50th anniversary picnic – it’s a potluck, and the first 75 attendees will receive a nifty PSC towel emblazoned with our anniversary logo on which to recline. We also hope to see you at the NYC Labor Day Parade, Saturday, September 10, at 10 am. The parade returns after a three-year hiatus, departing from Midtown for a march down Fifth Avenue, with US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh as grand marshal. Details about joining the PSC contingent coming soon here. What a great moment, with the upsurge of union organizing in New York and around the country, to celebrate the labor movement and the 140th anniversary of the first Labor Day march from City Hall to Union Square.
We look forward to working and organizing alongside you this year! It’s a challenging but exciting time to be pressing on together to forge our collective futures. We wish you the best for a fulfilling semester.
James Davis, President
Andrea Vásquez, First Vice President
Felicia Wharton, Treasurer
Penny Lewis, Secretary
Published: August 26, 2022