Faculty Union’s Long Road to a Contract
By Parish Maynard
Five years without a contract. Six years without a raise. The Professional Staff Congress of CUNY continues to provoke Chancellor Milliken and CUNY management as the negotiation for a new contract continues.
Indeed, there are over thousands of teachers, 408 full-time faculty members and 896 part-time faculty members in John Jay, but it barely covers four percent that make up for the 25,000 faculty members of CUNY represented by the PSC union. Negotiations have taken place for a better part of six years, but union members predetermined their decisions when coming to CUNY.
“We chose this frustrating, poorly resourced, under resourced, exhausting place of work,” Barbara Bowen, PSC president, said. “Yet, we all have different mindsets, and different beliefs and that’s why we are all here, that’s why we came to CUNY to make a difference.”
On Nov. 19, over 800 members of the PSC gathered for a mass meeting at the Cooper Union Great Hall in New York City. The attendees discussed the reasons for their fight, invited a student to speak on their behalf, showed videos of other unions expressing support, and talked about their next move.
With one of those moves potentially leading to a strike, members were asked to vote for or against strike authorization at the meeting.
“We will take our demand for a contract not only to Chancellor Milliken, but to Governor Andrew Cuomo,” Bowen said. “We are not voting to go on strike, this meeting is a vote in plans to authorize a strike, but it is about being prepared if we are going to move forward and do it.”
The PSC’s first vice president, Michael Fabricant, explained the structure behind negotiating for a new contract. “We fight for better adjunct faculty job security,” Fabricant said, “We want a contract where the working conditions for full time faculty are reduced.”
Fabricant also stated that students are affected by this fight. “Wages have consequences on the quality of education for our students,” Fabricant said. “We fight for wage increase which will have implications on quality higher education and a quality public education in order to better our students.”
With the government on the verge of a $15 an hour minimum wage increase, Fabricant mentioned that it fails create a critical investment to the one institution that provides the ladder of education to be able to provide more than a $15 an hour minimum wage.
In the meantime of fighting for a new contract, Sharon Persinger, treasurer for the PSC, made mention of the progress the PSC has made so far.
“Eligible adjuncts have access to health insurance, funded on an ongoing basis,” Persinger said. “Negotiations, lobbying rallies, permanent paid parental leave for full time faculty members, and bargaining sessions were things we have achieved in 18 months.”
Persinger made mention of the current contract campaign revving up since the fall semester began, starting with rallying in front of CUNY Chancellor James Milliken’s home on Oct. 1.
Then the PSC continued on Nov. 4 with a rally in front of the CUNY administration building to offer a new contract. On that night, 54 faculty members were arrested in a show of civil disobedience. Professor David Winn, an assistant professor at Hunter College, teaching for 35 years, called what the PSC is doing unique.
“There has been no serious intent on the part of the chancellor,” Winn said. “There is no political will on the part of the governor, and we are willing to take risks like this civil disobedience act or going on a strike if they don’t come to their senses.”
One of those arrested, James Davis, a tenured professor teaching English at Brooklyn College, said he is disgusted over the negotiations so far, but inspired by what took place two weeks ago outside CUNY’s administration building.
“Our union is insulted, our students are being disrespected, and our union is being harmed” Davis said. “Two questions came to mind on that night were when would it feel right to break the law, what the stakes are, and what the consequences are likely to be.” Davis stated that it is important to recognize how much power the union has and what role we play in our national conversation of public higher education.
“We’re fortunate to have a union,” Davis added. “The PSC has a long history of effective and progressive unionism.”
Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College, said he hopes this situation will soon be put to rest. “This standoff has sapped the energy of the college,” Travis said. “We need to get this behind us.”