CUNY sanitizing BMCC

NOT A TWO-TIER SYSTEM: The Professional Staff Congress and the United University Professions advocated for all staff who report in-person at the city and state's university systems to be able to receive the COVID vaccine. The state has announced that in-person instructors were eligible, and the unions were seeking clarification about whether titles such as Counselors and Lab Assistants were as well. Above, a staffer at the Borough of Manhattan Community College sanitizes the campus.

The Professional Staff Congress and the United University Professions are demanding that the state affirm that Higher Education Officers, College Lab Technicians and other staff working at public universities are eligible to receive the COVID vaccine.

Governor Cuomo allowed educators, including those in higher education, to begin being vaccinated Jan. 10 as part of Phase 1B.


Instructors Only?

But the state advised that “in-person higher education instructors” would be prioritized for vaccinations, calling into question whether professional staff working on campuses at the City University of New York and the State University of New York would be eligible.

“The PSC calls on New York State to clarify that ‘instructors’ includes all on-campus instructional staff—Professors, Lecturers, Librarians, Registrars, Laboratory Assistants, Counselors, and all other instructional staff members represented by the PSC,” union President Barbara Bowen said in a statement. “Many of these dedicated employees have been working in person, without any option to work remotely, since the pandemic began. They have made it possible for CUNY to stay open and continue to serve the half-million New Yorkers for whom the University is a lifeline in this economic crisis.”

The Governor’s Office did not return a request for comment.

Although the majority of CUNY classes were conducted remotely this past fall, about 600 staffers worked in-person. HEOs were told to work on campus despite many advocating to work remotely, Cindy Bink, the chair of the Higher Education Officers’ chapter at the New York City College of Technology, said late last August.

Cites 22 Deaths

PSC First Vice President Andrea Vasquez, an Associate Higher Education Officer at the CUNY Graduate Center, noted that of the 51 people in the CUNY community who have died from COVID, 22 were staffers.

“As a member of the professional staff myself, I know how vital the work of CUNY’s professional staff is,” she said. “If our CUNY communities are to be deemed safe for any, they must be deemed safe for all. Only in this way can we ensure that there are no more COVID deaths at CUNY.”

Classes were held in-person across SUNY’s 64 campuses this past semester, and classroom doors were set to reopen for the spring semester in February.  

“Many of our professional members work in residence halls, registrar offices, libraries and many other operations open to the public at SUNY campuses,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “These crucial employees have not been included in the 1B classification—and that means they will not be eligible for vaccinations as we begin the spring semester. This is unacceptable, especially when the number of professionals is a far smaller pool than the hundreds of thousands of our K-12 colleagues being vaccinated as part of 1B.”

(In just the first week, 17,000 members of the United Federation of Teachers received vaccinations.)

Syringe Brigades

Mr. Kowal has also called for SUNY, which operates three public hospitals, to deploy “Vaccination Brigades” made up of volunteer medical students and medical residents to speed up vaccinating the SUNY community.

The rollout of vaccinations has been mired by delays all across the state. The city canceled 23,000 appointments between Jan. 21 and Jan. 24 due to a shortage of vaccines.

Despite the bumpy launch, the promise of widespread vaccinations prompted CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez to recently announce that CUNY intends to gradually return in-person classes for the Fall 2021 semester. But the PSC argued that ensuring that all staff have enough time to get access to the vaccine was necessary before campuses could reopen fully.

“All college employees—in every rank, title and union—who are working in person during the pandemic must be classified as 1B for priority access to the vaccine,” Ms. Vasquez said.

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