Press Release from the Professional Staff Congress:
New York—Hundreds of faculty and staff from the City University of New York called on the Governor tonight to end his refusal to invest adequately in quality education for CUNY students and a fair contract for CUNY workers who have been without a contract for five years. The call came at a meeting of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), as members of the 25,000-person union discussed plans for a strike authorization vote.
“Governor Cuomo cannot call himself a progressive if he is not progressive on CUNY, if he is not willing to make a real investment in the education of the low-income working people, people of color, and immigrants whom CUNY serves,” said Barbara Bowen, CUNY professor and PSC president. “We can’t provide the education CUNY students need without recruiting and retaining great faculty and supporting the faculty and staff who make CUNY work. Failure to invest in CUNY faculty and staff represents a political decision not to invest in the people we teach.”
The failure of the state to invest occurs as CUNY has grown dramatically over the last decade, to almost 500,000 degree-seeking and continuing education students. Governor Cuomo authorized $1,500 in tuition increases over the last five years, but has continually left CUNY without sufficient state funds to cover its increased operating costs or its long-expired collective bargaining agreements. Tuition increases to replace public funding for CUNY are especially harsh because more than 50% of CUNY students have family incomes under $30,000 a year.
Between 2008 and 2015, per-student funding from Albany for CUNY’s four-year colleges has been cut by 14%. Even now, when the state has a $1 billion budget surplus projected, the governor has not indicated any willingness to protect CUNY quality by supporting a fair contract for CUNY’s workers.
For six years, CUNY faculty and staff have worked without a raise. The University’s faculty are now among the lowest-paid professors in the high-cost New York City area—making it difficult for CUNY to compete in the academic labor market.
“CUNY’s offer of 6%—substantially below the settlements reached with any other public employees in New York—is not enough to attract and keep the best faculty and staff,” said Bowen. “We made a counterproposal today that would help to restore competitiveness to CUNY salaries and improve the learning conditions for our students. CUNY should pay us fairly for the important work we do. Without that, it’s CUNY students who will suffer.”
The PSC’s proposal calls for increases of a total of 14% over 6 years, including a one-year wage freeze. The union’s proposed increases would bring CUNY salaries within range of those for faculty at SUNY Stony Brook and other comparable institutions. The union also put forward other proposals to enhance the quality of students’ education, including allowing faculty more time with individual students and establishing employment continuity for adjunct instructors.
Negotiations between CUNY and the union had been stalled until union members cranked up the pressure on CUNY management, staging a raucous 8 AM rally outside Chancellor Milliken’s home in October and blockading the doors to CUNY’s Central Administration building in early November. The blockade, which resulted in 53 arrests, finally led CUNY to make economic offer. But the offer was unacceptable, and the union is moving forward with plans for a strike authorization vote, which would, if positive, give the union’s Executive Council the power to call for a strike or job action. President Bowen announced that polling on the strike authorization will begin when the spring semester has started on all campuses, after the first week of March.
“Our goal is to achieve a contract worthy of our work and supportive of our students’ education. We do not want to strike. But there is too much at stake to allow another academic year to go by without a fair contract and another generation of CUNY students to be shortchanged by underinvestment in their faculty and staff,” said Bowen.
The Professional Staff Congress (PSC/CUNY), affiliated with NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, represents more than 25,000 faculty and professional staff at the City University of New York who haven’t had a contract in five years or a raise in six years.
CUNY is the country’s largest urban public university system. Its contracts are funded by both the State (75%) and the City (25%). CUNY workers are public employees. The union negotiates its contract with CUNY, but State and City contract patterns influence its terms. PSC-CUNY.ORG. @PSC_CUNY.