Seventeen members of the Professional Staff Congress, including union president Barbara Bowen, blockaded the entrance to Baruch College and were arrested Dec. 10 as part of their fight for a fair contract and to push the City University of New York’s Board of Trustees to demand the funding the cash-strapped university system needs from the state.
The union, which represents 30,000 CUNY employees, has not received an economic offer despite its contract expiring in November 2017. It has been campaigning for months to get the trustees, who were predominantly appointed by Governor Cuomo, to fight for the funding from the state that CUNY needs to maintain its deteriorating campuses and academic offerings and to support adjunct pay being doubled to $7,000 per course.
‘Stop Defending Austerity’
The university typically submits its budget request to the board, which was holding a meeting at the college at the time of the protest, in October, but had not done so yet. A CUNY spokesman said it would submit the request shortly.
“We went to make a demand: that CUNY produce a budget that stops defending austerity,” Ms. Bowen said. “Our members feel strongly that the trustees should not accept scarcity. Poverty funding for a university whose students are largely poor is unacceptable.”
The union has argued that state funding per student has decreased when adjusted for inflation. She said that CUNY had “cannibalized” its academic programming, increased tuition, and increasingly relied on adjuncts (who make up about 60 percent of CUNY’s instructional staff) in order to compensate for the lack of resources.
Many members held posters demanding that CUNY’s 12,000 adjuncts be paid $7,000 per course, which was comparable to what adjuncts at other colleges such as Rutgers University earned. They currently average $3,500 per class.
Carly Smith, vice-president for part-time staff at the PSC and an Adjunct Lecturer at Baruch, was among the 17 protesters who were arrested.
“We had to put our bodies on the line at this point to emphasize the urgency of our demand,” she said. “$7K for adjuncts is everybody’s demand. Our membership understands we all suffer if any of us can be so poorly paid for the work that we do.”
Path to ‘Decent Life’
Hugo Lane, an adjunct at York College, said that some part-timers felt the previous contract didn’t include many gains for them.
“If I can make $21,000 a semester, I can have a decent life. It really would make a huge difference,” he said, also highlighting the fact that not all adjuncts had health care.
Ben Franz, a Librarian at Medgar Evers College, said that one of his main concerns was an agreement in the previous contract to staff an extra Librarian in each library that has gone unfulfilled.
Ms. Bowen noted that in addition to increased pay for full-time and part-time staff, the union was also seeking tweaks to policies regarding three-year appointments for adjuncts, anti-harassment language, and paid family leave. In 2009, PSC became the first public-sector union to get paid parental leave, but the policy does not apply to adjuncts.
Ian Hansen, an Associate Professor at York College, said that while he hoped the union’s efforts would succeed, he expected CUNY to put up resistance to its demands.
Call to Turn Up Heat
“I think, related to the Supreme Court decision that made the whole country like a right-to-work state, that perhaps is going to embolden the administration,” he said, referring to the June ruling that public-employee unions can no longer collect agency-fee payments from nonmembers.
Ms. Smith said that it was important for the union to ramp up its efforts because the last contract dispute took six years to resolve. In May 2016, at the tail end of negotiations on its previous contract, the PSC asked its membership to authorize a strike, which 92 percent approved.
“We need to be prepared to increase our militancy,” she said.
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