CAROL LANG: Solves one problem, creates another.

Some faculty at the City University of New York believe that the tentative contract agreement announced late last month by the Professional Staff Congress, which would boost pay for three-credit courses by 71 percent, will not do enough to improve adjunct salaries.

The 63-month pact, which runs from Dec. 1, 2017 to Feb. 28, 2023, provides a 10-percent salary increase for 30,000 employees, including a 2-percent raise retroactive to Oct. 1, 2018. More than 12,000 adjuncts, who make up the majority of the teaching staff at the City University of New York, currently earn as little as $3,222 per course, but if ratified, this pact would increase pay for three-credit classes to $5,500.  

Multiple Money Pools

The contract would boost adjunct pay in multiple ways: adjuncts would receive 2 percent raises over the first four years of the agreement, would be paid at their full hourly rate for office hours, and see an increase in their hourly rate at the start of the Fall 2022 semester.

But several staff members expressed concern that adjuncts would not reach the $5,500 minimum pay per course until 2022.

“As a contract, it’s too little, too late,” said Pamela Stemberg, an English Adjunct Lecturer at the City College of New York. “$5,500 looks better today than it will three years from now.”

PSC President Barbara Bowen stated that there has been “a lot of confusion” over the complicated contract. According to the union's website, the biggest raise would take place during the next semester: the minimum salary for a three-credit course would increase to $4,469, up from $3,222. The minimum pay for four-credit courses would jump from $4,295 to $5,586 by the start of the Spring 2020 semester. 

The agreement would allow adjuncts teaching between 6 and 9 classroom hours to be paid for 30 office hours per semester, while instructors teaching more than 9 hours would get paid for 45 office hours. But some staff members were also concerned that the required additional office hours would overburden contingent employees, who often work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

More Difficult to Juggle

“If adjuncts have all these additional office hours, it will only make it more difficult for them to teach at two different schools or take on a second job,” said Carol Lang, an adjunct who teaches English at Bronx Community College.

Ms. Bowen said that concern has come up among some adjuncts she’s spoken with, but that her hope was that “the higher pay will eliminate the need for a second job, or as many hours at a second job.” She added that the change would allow adjuncts to be paid for more of the work they’re already doing.

The deal includes equity raises for full-time College Laboratory Technicians, but Ms. Stemberg believed that there were no gains for adjunct CLTs.  Ms. Bowen noted that part-time CLTs would be eligible to apply for professional development grants, as long as they worked an average of 10 or more hours per week for four consecutive semesters.

Some adjuncts also felt that the contract’s proposed restructuring of adjunct salary steps would not benefit those at the top step. Currently, it takes 15 years for adjuncts to reach the that step, and they are eligible to receive raises every three years. But the agreement would set one salary for each title, with Adjunct Lecturers earning $91.67 per hour, while Adjunct Professors would make $112.50.

‘Reward Longevity’

“I think we should reward adjuncts who’ve been at CUNY a long time,” said James Hoff, an Assistant Professor in English at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Eliminating steps shows even more that adjuncts are seen as contingent. It engrains the attitude that adjuncts are temporary.”

Ms. Bowen noted that about 70 percent of adjuncts were at the bottom step, and that the union bargained around the principle of “lifting the floor.”

“We made a decision as a union to raise the minimum while being fair across the board.” And, she noted, “salary steps in many ways delay adjuncts from getting to the top of the salary schedule.”

71% Not Enough?

The largest criticism the union has received was that even though the pact would provide a 71-percent increase for the lowest-paid courses, it does not fulfill the goal PSC members had been aggressively campaigning for: doubling adjunct pay to $7,000.

"It gives you some extra money but it’s not life-changing," Ms. Stemberg said. “You can’t overpromise and underdeliver.”

Ms. Bowen, who noted that the union’s previous wins weren’t achieved over a single contract, emphasized that the agreement “does not get adjunct salaries to where they should be.”

“But I regard this contract as a breakthrough, because it is the first to meaningfully address adjunct wages, and it serves as a springboard for other things,” she said.

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