January 2016 Issue
December 20, 2015

PSC ramps up contract fight

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
PSC members, joined by NYSUT officer Martin Messner, far right, protest at CUNY offices.
Caption: PSC members, joined by NYSUT officer Martin Messner, far right, protest at CUNY offices.

Faculty and staff members of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY have been working without a new contract for a half-decade and salaries haven't been raised in six years. As a result, the university system's professors are now the lowest-paid higher-education faculty throughout the New York City area.

Making the situation more dire is that between 2008 and 2015, per-student funding for CUNY has been cut by 14 percent by the state — despite a $1 billion state budget surplus. And though the governor has authorized tuition increases totaling $1,500 over the last five years, CUNY does not have sufficient funding from the state to cover its operating expenses or its obligations under which faculty and staff have been working.

"Gov. 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, a CUNY professor and president of the 25,000-member Professional Staff Congress that represents faculty and staff.

"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 union has proposed a 14-percent increase in pay over six years, including as part of that plan a one-year wage freeze. Bowen said the PSC proposal would bring CUNY salaries within range of those for faculty at SUNY Stony Brook and other comparable institutions. The union's offer also would provide faculty more time with individual students and establish employment continuity for adjunct instructors.

CUNY's offer, however, would raise salaries by only 6 percent, which Bowen said is not only "substantially below the settlements reached with any other public employees in New York, (but) not enough to attract and keep the best faculty and staff."

In early November, hundreds of pro-union supporters took to New York City streets to demand an end to the contract impasse. The demonstration ultimately resulted in the arrest of dozens of PSC marchers who refused to leave CUNY's midtown offices.

Among those arrested were Bowen and NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner, who described his being charged this way: "I went to jail for a couple of hours; our members have been without a contract for years."

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