Update at end!
After Six Years Without a Raise, 92% Vote ‘Yes’
New York—After more than six years without a raise and five years without a contract for its members, the union of faculty and professional staff at The City University of New York announced that 92% of the union’s voting members have voted to authorize a strike to achieve a fair contract. The resounding ‘yes’ vote was the result of a strike authorization vote held May 2-11, with ballots counted today by the American Arbitration Association. Professional Staff Congress (PSC) President Barbara Bowen said the union remains committed to resolving the contract through negotiations and will not take any job action during the current academic year, but could take action in the fall if left with no alternative.
“A 92 percent vote to authorize a strike demonstrates that the CUNY faculty and staff are willing to fight for the working conditions we deserve and the learning conditions our students deserve. The union’s goal is to reach a fair contract without needing to strike, but the CUNY administration must put a decent economic offer on the table. CUNY’s substandard pay and conditions are endangering the University’s core mission of teaching, learning and research,” said Bowen. “The union hopes to build on the growing public and legislative support for funding our contract, and we will do our utmost to reach an agreement through negotiations, without a strike. But after six years without a raise, many of us are struggling to keep up with the cost of living for ourselves and alarmed at the threat to academic quality at CUNY. The vote shows that PSC members are ready to take a stand for what we need and what we believe in,” she added.
The vote is not a vote to strike; it is a vote to authorize the union’s Executive Council to call a strike or other job action if a fair contract cannot be achieved any other way. The authorization vote is the latest escalation in a five-year effort by the union to negotiate an acceptable contract with the CUNY Administration. More than 10,000 PSC members participated in the vote. The total yes vote represents an absolute majority of eligible voters. It is the first strike authorization vote the PSC has taken since 1973.
CUNY provides a high-quality education to over 500,000 students, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color from poor communities. But its 25,000 professors and staff have seen the value of their pay plummet against NYC’s rising cost of living. The University is struggling to retain faculty and hobbled in its recruitment efforts by uncompetitive salaries.
Professor Kevin Foster, chair of the Department of Economics and Business at City College of New York, said uncompetitive pay and scarce resources are undermining his department’s efforts to provide the excellent education CUNY students deserve.
“In my department, of the 11 untenured faculty hired in the last ten years, seven left before a tenure vote, driven off by low pay, poor working conditions, crumbling buildings, heavy teaching loads, and lack of support for research,” said Foster.
A strike authorization vote is unusual for a public-sector union in New York, but it is legal. While state law imposes financial and legal penalties on public-sector unions and employees who participate in strikes or other job actions, the vote itself is within the law. PSC members voted 92% in favor of strike authorization understanding how high the stakes are for their students and themselves.
“During this past six years with no raise, I’ve earned tenure, published a co-edited book, and taught a couple thousand CUNY students, many of whom face struggles academically and in their lives. Yet for nearly two years now I have needed a roommate in my Queens studio apartment to help cover my rent. I’m not a starving artist! I am a tenured professional with a full-time job, who lives in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. I should be putting all my energy toward my students, who are working to overcome challenges far greater than the ones I face, but stagnant pay and rising costs don’t allow me to do that. I’m voting ‘yes’ for the strike authorization for me, for my colleagues and for my students. CUNY faculty need salaries that support the critical work we do,” said Professor Deborah Gambs, Sociology Department, Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Update: An Email from PSC President Barbara Bowen:
Dear PSC Members,
Thank you, PSC! 92% of voters on strike authorization voted YES. Together we have sent an unequivocal message to the CUNY Chancellor and to Albany that PSC members are determined to fight for what we need-and what our students need.
The 92% vote is a demand that CUNY act with urgency to put a decent economic offer on the table and do what it takes to get this contract settled. The union remains absolutely committed to achieving an acceptable contract through the negotiating process, but we are prepared to take action if there is no alternative.
92% of those who cast ballots voted “yes,” and the number of ballots was well over 10,000, giving us an absolute majority of “yes” votes. That is a landmark result. It would be a powerful result in any context, but it is especially powerful for a union whose members have worked six years without a raise and who understand that a strike would come with financial and legal penalties.
Our message is clear: we are prepared to fight to defend our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions. Our own lives and the life-chances of our students are at stake.
The union bargaining team will walk into our next negotiating session with the power of a 92% “yes” vote at our backs. Contract talks with CUNY are ongoing, and the union is doing its utmost to reach an acceptable agreement within the next few weeks. Your vote is the best support we could have. The union leadership is also working with lawmakers in Albany to build on the support many have expressed for funding our contract. (The Daily News published my op-ed on Albany’s unfinished economic justice agenda today.)
PSC members, you rose beautifully to the occasion of the vote. The other officers and I thank all the voters, supporters, union chapter chairs, members who staffed “voting booths” in campus buildings, and the 1,000 union activists who engaged in systematic conversations with other members to prepare for the vote. The organizing alone strengthens us as a union.
I also want to thank the PSC staff, who poured their hearts into this work, as well as the student organizations, community groups in The CUNY Rising Alliance, and the hundreds of other union workers who have given their support. Our contract is a justice issue for all of New York.
Now we will redouble our efforts to win a contract worthy of your commitment.