Despite the City University of New York’s canceling of in-person classes to limit students and faculty from being exposed to coronavirus, the Professional Staff Congress is worried that non-teaching staff will still have to work on campus and remained at risk.
On March 12, Governor Cuomo announced that both CUNY and the State University of New York would shift to distance-learning for the remainder of the spring semester beginning March 19. CUNY’s website states that its 26 campuses will remain open, including labs, research facilities and libraries.
Productive and Safe
CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez wrote in a message to students and faculty that “by transitioning to distance learning, CUNY will be upholding its responsibility as the largest urban public university in the country and meeting our goal of minimizing exposure to those on our campus communities to coronavirus transmission.”
PSC President Barbara Bowen, who represents 30,000 CUNY staff members, supported that decision. But CUNY’s plan, she said, did not address “the needs of the entire university,” citing a failure to allow non-pedagogical staff to work remotely. The union represents about 6,000 non-teaching faculty members, including Counselors and Lab Technicians.
“We’re concerned that teaching faculty are being treated differently than other staff we represent,” Ms. Bowen said during a phone interview. “We believe that many, many of the [non-teaching] jobs can be worked remotely.”
She added that the union has called for CUNY administrators to allow staff who must be on campus to work in staggered shifts, in order to minimize contact with others. Last week, the PSC began negotiating with the administration for several demands related to coronavirus, including a provision that would allow members who are at serious-risk if they contract coronavirus, such as those with chronic health conditions, to be able to work remotely.
Help for Non-Unionized
Although PSC members are entitled to 20 days of paid sick leave annually, enough to cover them if they needed to isolate for two weeks after coming in contact with someone who has coronavirus, the union also pushed for CUNY to provide paid sick time for its non-unionized workers as well.
“We are all one workforce at CUNY. All of us who are union leaders are fighting for protections for their own members, but at the same time, labor should be fighting for everyone,” Ms. Bowen said.
A spokesman for CUNY said that a taskforce dedicated to coronavirus would be consulting with health and safety officials to “ensure the health and safety of staff and the entire CUNY community.”
Another fundamental concern was that bathrooms sometimes did not have soap or running water, with Ms. Bowen saying that she’d recently been informed that bathroom faucets at the New York City College of Technology weren’t working. Many of CUNY’s buildings were deteriorating thanks to underfunding, with missing floor and ceiling tiles, exposed wires, out-of-order bathroom stalls, and peeling paint all very common issues.
‘A Dangerous Situation’
“Forcing CUNY, and the public-sector in general, to operate on austerity has put it in a dangerous situation,” she said.
The union has called on CUNY to report on the status of all bathrooms once a week, and to re-stock soap and other bathroom supplies within 24 hours. “As long as CUNY is going to stay open, it’s an absolute requirement that it’s a safe environment. A very basic thing is that people have to be able to wash their hands,” Ms. Bowen said.
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