WON'T STAND BY: The Professional Staff Congress has filed a lawsuit seeking to rescind the layoff of 2,800 adjunct instructors by the City University of New York. Union President Barbara Bowen questioned the legality of such cuts at a time when the system has $251 million in Federal stimulus money that is intended to keep people on the payroll.

After 2,800 adjuncts at the City University of New York were laid off, the Professional Staff Congress filed a lawsuit July 1 in Manhattan Federal Court arguing that the public-university system “violated its obligations” to keep as many employees on payroll as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CUNY colleges, which have been closed due to the coronavirus since March 12, have been allocated $251 million in Federal COVID-19 aid under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. While more than $118 million will go to students, $132 million is intended for institutional needs.

CUNY 'Must Pay Workers'

The CARES Act states that a college that receives Federal coronavirus aid must “to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus.”

But as colleges announced plans to lay off hundreds of adjuncts, who are part-time, the PSC's legal counsel sent CUNY’s lawyers a formal request for information regarding how the CARES Act funding would be used.

By June 30, more than 2,800 adjuncts were told they would not be reappointed for the coming semester, according to the lawsuit. That number accounted for about 23 percent of the more-than 12,000 adjuncts the union represents.

“How can CUNY lay off thousands of workers when it has been awarded $251 million in CARES Act funds, which come with an explicit requirement about keeping employees on payroll?” PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a statement. “The PSC will not stand by as CUNY lays off adjuncts and eliminates classes for students when Congress named job protection at colleges as one of the purposes of the stimulus bill.”

Union's Been Protesting

The union fought against the layoffs for months, holding both virtual and in-person rallies. In May, John Jay College of Criminal Justice announced plans to eliminate 437 adjuncts, while the College of Staten Island proposed cutting its adjunct budget by 35 percent. Administrators at Brooklyn College also called for 25 percent of classes within dozens of departments to be cut.

The PSC was also concerned because among those who were laid off, 422 adjuncts lost their health-insurance during the current health-crisis.

The lawsuit asks for issuance of a temporary restraining order that would prevent CUNY from laying off more adjuncts until the shutdowns and disruptions stemming from the coronavirus pandemic are over, and mandate that it reinstate those who were already discharged and provide back pay. 

“Adjuncts are essential faculty and staff at CUNY; they must not be treated as disposable,” Ms. Bowen stated.

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