SCHOOLING: Members of the Professional Staff Congress rallied CUNY’s Midtown headquarters June 23 against proposed cuts to staff and class offerings. About 100 PSC members took to the streets five days before adjunct instructors were to find out if they were being reappointed.

"We have not seen CUNY making a serious effort to protect our members’ safety and health insurance in this crisis. We have potentially thousands of employees facing loss of employment and health insurance—it’s short-sighted and inhumane,” Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, said June 23, a week before adjunct instructors teaching in the public-university system were to find out whether they were reappointed.

The City University of New York is projecting deep budget cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to several colleges proposing cuts to adjunct staff and the number of classes offered in the fall semester.

BC, CSI, Jay Cutting Big

Brooklyn College department chairs were instructed to cut 25 percent of classes for the fall, while the College of Staten Island has also proposed cutting 35 percent of its budget for adjunct instructors. John Jay College announced plans to lay off more than 400 adjuncts.

About 100 members of the PSC rallied against the cuts—while practicing social distancing—outside CUNY’s Midtown headquarters June 23, with 600 more activists joining in virtually.

The union has called the cuts pre-emptive, because CUNY’s budget hasn’t been finalized. Nor has $235 million in Federal coronavirus funding allocated to CUNY through the CARES Act been factored in. Half of the money must go to students, but Ms. Bowen pointed out that the legislation “specified one thing—that institutions shall, to the greatest extent possible, keep employees on payroll during this coronavirus emergency.” 

The union’s legal counsel has sent CUNY’s lawyers a formal request for information regarding how the CARES Act funding will be used “in order to prepare for potential litigation, if necessary,” the PSC website states. CUNY acknowledged receipt of the request, but has not yet provided any information, according to the union.

Could Stay and Still Lose

Angel Martinez, an Adjunct at Hostos and Bronx Community College, stated that even adjuncts who get reappointed could “end up with shorter work schedules and bigger class sizes.”

“There’s money already to preserve our jobs,” he said.

The PSC planned to keep fighting the cuts throughout the summer. "We're 30,000 people. But we're not really 30,000 if only 1,000 are acting," Ms. Bowen said. "We need to have all 30,000 with us, and the communities we serve."

During the rally, the union also cited safety concerns about faculty and staff returning to campuses. CUNY moved to remote instruction back in March, and has not determined whether on-campus classes will resume in the fall.

COVID-19 Plans Required

The state requires that all employers “must develop a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan” that includes details about what is being done to comply with safety guidelines, including capacity limits, personal protective equipment and social-distancing requirements.

“Upon reopening, you must have your COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan posted on your place of business,” the New York Forward website reads.

Ms. Bowen stated that CUNY has not yet conspicuously posted its safety plans. Jeanette Batiz, the vice-chair of the PSC’s College Lab Technician chapter, said that there was no PPE for CLTs who have returned to their campuses.

“The union’s position is that no worker may be required to return to campus until CUNY complies with the state regulations,” Ms. Batiz said.

CUNY spokesman Frank Sobrino said that “considerations as to how to proceed in the fall” will factor in these safety challenges.

“Our highest priority in responding to the coronavirus pandemic is to protect the health and safety of CUNY students, faculty and staff,” he said.

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