Classes started this past Wednesday at most CUNY colleges, 17 months after the COVID shutdown. Many professional staff began schedules that include some in-person work the week of August 16. The reopening has been safer and more cautious because of the persistent advocacy of PSC members, and while important concerns remain unaddressed, we have moved CUNY Central and the college administrations. Over 200 union health and safety watchdogs have participated in walkthroughs of campus worksites, identified threats to health and safety, and held CUNY accountable to reducing risks. We negotiated a Remote Work Agreement that gives workers additional agency in setting schedules, empowered members to seek accommodations, when necessary, and informed members of their right to challenge a denied ADA accommodation through the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Together we have built the power to ensure that many unsafe facilities have been taken offline or remediated. We’ve successfully shifted CUNY from an honor system for mask-wearing to a real mask mandate. The August 2 return date for professional staff was pushed back to August 16. At Lehman College and Queens College, for example, most professional staff who are not designated “essential” are not returning to in-person work until September 14. Colleges have allowed greater flexibility about when and how often in-person classes must meet. The concerns we have publicized about having unvaccinated students in classrooms have led some colleges to issue guidance to have classes with unvaccinated students increase social distance by relocating to larger rooms or remain online until all students in the class are vaccinated or the October 7 vaccination deadline passes. Some departments in Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business have moved in-person classes online until the student vaccination mandate is in effect. Concurrent organizing and pressure has also averted the cancellation of many (not all) under-enrolled courses, preserving students’ schedules and faculty employment.
As the Delta variant has emerged in New York, we’ve pressed CUNY in local and university wide labor-management meetings, organized protests to demand better COVID protocols on campuses, mobilized allies in the State Legislature and the City Council, and generated strong media coverage of the struggle for a safe return at CUNY. Union members rallied this week at CUNY Central and at Hunter College, and our most recent efforts have been reported by Fox 5, NY1, ABC 7, Gotham Gazette, the Daily Eagle and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Yet we must do more. CUNY’s testing policy for unvaccinated individuals requires a negative test every seven days, when the more infectious Delta variant has made a three-day requirement the best practice. Some colleges are requiring six feet of social distance only for unvaccinated individuals, who are expected to self-identify. CUNY has not initiated a program of surveillance testing to detect breakthrough infections. And CUNY lacks a university-wide, public plan for how to scale back or suspend in-person activities if community spread of the Delta variant continues to increase. We need that plan, and it must include infection-rate thresholds that trigger specific actions in offices, labs, and classrooms.
Join the Health and Safety Watchdogs or attend your union chapter’s next meeting to help keep CUNY safe.
Urge Congress to Invest in CUNY
Email Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and your Congress Member, and let them know that you want the strongest possible provisions for public higher education in the September reconciliation bill.
Have you been denied an ADA Accommodation?
PSC members denied a remote work accommodation can contact the NYC Commission on Human Rights (NYCHR). If you or other co-workers are still seeking accommodation, see if you are covered by the NYC Commission on Human Rights, which allows for remote work for a wide range of reasons, including compromised immunity, pregnancy, cancer, stroke, and being overweight/obese. If the college has denied remote work requests that list any of these reasons or others listed on the site, this is a potential violation and an employee can file a complaint with New York City. Filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the NY State Division of Human Rights is also an option. Learn more.