April 2015 Issue
March 20, 2015

PSC urges CUNY to resolve contract dispute

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
psc-cuny rally
Caption: PSC members call on CUNY administrators to end the five-year stalemate with a fair contract. Photo by Dave Sanders.
Using Obama's praise as a launching pad, the union took to the airwaves and launched a radio ad in March calling for a fair contract.

When President Obama earlier this year unveiled his proposal to make community colleges nationwide tuition-free, he specifically highlighted a City University of New York program that ensures economically disadvantaged students have access to higher education.

By providing free tuition, textbooks and even Metro Cards, the president noted, CUNY's successful Accelerated Study in Associates Program makes college possible for selected low-income students.

That Obama chose to recognize CUNY was no surprise to Barbara Bowen, president of the 27,000-member Professional Staff Congress. Still, what Bowen wants known is that ASAP's success would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of the CUNY faculty and professional staff she represents — and who are now entering their fifth year without a contractual raise.

Using Obama's praise as a launching pad, the union took to the airwaves and launched a radio ad in March calling for a fair contract.

"We love what we do, and we feel privileged to teach CUNY students," Bowen said in the ad. "But it is difficult to continue our important work without a contract. Like President Obama, we believe in CUNY. It's time for Albany to believe, too." PSC, earlier this year, also took its case directly to the state Legislature.

In testimony before state Assembly and Senate lawmakers — during which Bowen urged legislators to make good on their broken promise of providing fair funding to CUNY — she said a new collective bargaining agreement would be an "urgent first step toward restoring support" for the public higher education system.

"Our salaries, already low in comparison to other comparable institutions, have now become completely noncompetitive," Bowen told lawmakers. "Meanwhile, decades of underinvestment by the state have led to a massive reliance on adjuncts, whose underpaid labor allows CUNY to stay afloat as enrollment rises."

The PSC president noted an adjunct who carries a full load of courses still earns less than $30,000 a year and doesn't know from one semester to the next whether he or she will have a job.

"Theirs are not the smiling faces you see in CUNY's subway ads," Bowen said. "But they are doing the bulk of the teaching, especially of the highest-needs students. That is no way to run a university."

Benno Schmidt, chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees, in a Jan. 30 letter to Bowen, wrote that Chancellor James B. Milliken "has repeatedly advised the board that resolving the collective bargaining agreement with PSC is a top priority."

Nonetheless, PSC is questioning the board's sense of urgency. "CUNY's success can't be sustained without a fair (PSC) contract," Bowen said. "We need a contract that allows us to serve our students, continue our research and support our own families."