Message from President Barbara Bowen
August 29, 2014
This week marks the start of the new academic year, and I want to take the occasion both to wish you well for the year and to bring you up to date on contract negotiations.
Serious negotiations for a new PSC contract began on June 20, when PSC and CUNY bargaining teams met to exchange demands. After years of inaction on all of the 152 expired contracts for public-sector workers in New York City, the new mayoral administration moved quickly to begin reaching settlements. The PSC contract, however, is unlike almost every other in the city, because it involves approvals by the State government as well as the City. But the shift in the City’s position provided an opening for our negotiations to begin.
Since then, there have been several bargaining sessions and informal meetings of labor/management subcommittees. All of these have been productive. The PSC bargaining team has used the sessions to argue for our demands, listen to CUNY management’s demands, identify priorities, and determine whether there are areas on which we might reach agreement. We have also made it clear that there are management demands on which we are not willing to budge, such as eliminating salary steps.
Some real progress has been made. On July 30 the union signed an agreement transferring responsibility for health insurance for eligible adjuncts from the PSC-CUNY Welfare Fund to CUNY, with coverage provided through the City health plan. The agreement not only resolves an acute crisis for adjuncts; it helps to stabilize the finances of the Welfare Fund, which have often been a major issue in bargaining.
We have also made progress in discussions with CUNY about non-economic issues such as the grievance procedure, and about how we might resolve some economic issues. The union continues to focus on salary increases and our three other big priorities: relief on the teaching-load for full-time faculty; an opportunity for HEOs to advance in their jobs; and measurable progress toward job security and equity for adjuncts.
But we do not have a contract and I do not have news about a raise. We also have no information yet about retroactive pay, although the union has pressed hard for retroactive increases. All salary issues must be negotiated, and we cannot do so until we have an economic offer from CUNY. The CUNY administration has not yet offered any economic increase. The PSC bargaining team—a representative group of 15 members of the union’s Executive Council—understands the complexity of working with both State and City governments to develop an economic offer, but we also understand that members cannot wait much longer.
PSC members need a raise. The union has been emphatic on this issue at the bargaining table and in conversations directly with Chancellor Milliken and other CUNY officials. CUNY faculty and staff have worked for four years without an across-the-board raise, and we have often worked in adverse conditions—overcrowded classrooms, the nightmare of introducing CUNYfirst, the disrespect shown to faculty and students by the imposition of Pathways. Almost every day I hear from a member of the faculty or staff who is struggling financially: a young professor whose salary is no longer adequate for soaring rent costs; a senior faculty member who has seen huge increases in the cost of prescription drugs without an increase in salary; a professional staff member who cannot pay her children’s tuition at a public college; an adjunct on food stamps. CUNY cannot meet its high aspirations when the majority of the teaching and professional staff are experiencing a real-dollar loss in the value of their salaries.
The union leadership welcomes Chancellor Milliken’s expressed commitment to resolving the contract. We have also noticed the tone of respect for the faculty and staff that has characterized the approach of CUNY’s Office of Labor Relations—a marked departure from the start of previous rounds of bargaining. But we cannot risk waiting indefinitely for an economic offer: the momentum to settle NYC contracts may be lost, and the real economic need of PSC members is too great.
While the union bargaining team hopes to be able to report on further progress in the next few weeks, we are prepared to call for a demonstration if there is not a viable economic offer on the table by early September. The best way to show the strength of the union and the urgency of a new contract is to stand and be counted together. If a new contract is important to you, you should be there. Meanwhile, the PSC will continue to work as productively as we can in discussions with management.
Watch for an update shortly after Labor Day about a possible demonstration in September and a mass membership meeting in October. Send us a message here if you want to make sure you receive information about how to participate or volunteer to organize for these events. And please send us a message here if you would like to observe a bargaining session; we will try to accommodate all those who wish to attend.
Thank you for the support you have shown through this long process. CUNY faculty and staff perform daily miracles with our students. We do it because we love the work and because we believe in the project of democratic higher education. It is time for a contract that honors that work. Chancellor Milliken has spoken publicly about his interest in making salaries at CUNY competitive; the best way to do that is to put a fair and respectful contract offer on the table. Be ready to join us if we need to make sure our demand is being heard.