Demanding A Fair Contract, Funding for Quality Education
Elected leaders of the faculty and professional staff union at the City University of New York (CUNY) were arrested today while demanding a contract that will help ensure a quality education for the half-million CUNY students across the city. Seventeen protesters, including the union president, vice president and secretary, local campus leaders and members of the executive council, blocked the doors to Baruch College near the Flatiron District of Manhattan during a meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees. Hundreds more CUNY faculty and staff chanted “CUNY Trustees, do you job! Demand the funding CUNY needs!” during the blockade.
CUNY’s 30,000 faculty and staff have been without a contract for more than a year. Their union, the Professional Staff Congress, is demanding that the University Board of Trustees use its power and press the State and City to provide the funding needed to pay competitive salaries to faculty and staff and raise the near-poverty wage currently paid to 12,000 adjunct faculty.
PSC President Barbara Bowen, an English professor at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, was arrested with her colleagues. Before joining the blockade at the 24th Street entrance to Baruch College, she addressed the protesters and the legal rally of hundreds of other union members.
“Faculty salaries are thousands of dollars below those at comparable institutions, adjuncts receive poverty-level pay, college libraries are cutting hours and the students are being asked to pay higher and higher tuition,” said Bowen. “It’s time for the CUNY Board to stop defending austerity and start demanding the funding CUNY needs.”
Salaries for CUNY professors lag of thousands of dollars behind those at comparable public universities, such as the University of Connecticut and Rutgers. CUNY adjuncts earn a near-poverty average wage of $3,500 per course, the equivalent of $28,000 per year, even though they hold Master’s degrees and PhDs. The union is demanding real raises for all full-time faculty and staff and $7,000 per course for CUNY adjuncts. The union argues that increased public funding, not increased tuition, is the only sustainable way to support fair salaries and quality education at CUNY.
The last contract between the University and its workers was not fully funded by the State; the inflation-level raises it granted were funded with painful cuts to senior college academic programs, increased reliance on low-wage adjuncts, and tuition hikes for students. Albany’s declining per-student investment in the senior colleges, together with its failure to cover mandatory cost increases, is hurting the quality of education received by CUNY students, who are mostly low-income New Yorkers and people of color. The University Budget Request for FY2020, due to be released any day, is the document that will show whether the CUNY Board is serious about quality education for students and wage justice for workers.
“The CUNY Board of Trustees has the opportunity and the obligation to stand up for CUNY students,” said Bowen. “Without a vigorous request for more funding, they will simply be turning their back on the hundreds of thousands of CUNY students.”
The CUNY Board of Trustees approves the University’s annual budget request, which is currently in development, and its collective bargaining agreement with faculty and staff, which expired last November. The Board majority is held by ten appointees of Governor Cuomo, who include former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson and current State Budget Director Robert Mujica. Mayor de Blasio appoints five trustees.