At today’s meeting of the Hunter College chapter of the PSC, attendees passed the $7K or Strike resolution that passed at the Graduate Center last spring and Bronx Community College last week. After significant debate, the vote was twenty-eight for, one against, and one abstaining.
It is worth noting that many adjuncts cannot attend chapter meetings because low wages and punishing conditions demand that they shuttle back and forth between the several jobs they must hold to stay afloat. Recognizing this fact, colleagues from Hunter’s Film & Media department circulated a petition through which members unable to attend could signal their support for the resolution. In just two days, eighty members of the department, including a few full-timers, signed the petition.
Also significant is that the number of undergraduate students in attendance doubled from the last meeting. The support of students is a prerequisite for any successful mass action by teachers. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions, but just saying it is not enough—we need to mount a fierce campaign to actively enlist students on our side by making their teachers’ plight visible and asking them to participate actively in the life of the union. We should also make students’ concerns—tuition, class sizes, building conditions, advising, and more—part of our bargaining agenda in service of building a democratic bloc that can redirect the university away from the cruel logic of profit-seeking and in the direction of our ideals. This is not how it is done, the savvy will tell you. Pay them no mind. Formal structures have failed us—a democratic revolution is our only hope.
Another PSC chapter has thrown its weight behind a strike for $7K! As Hunter College voted on its successful 7K or Strike! resolution, a similar resolution was on the floor at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The room was packed to capacity and the energy was palpable. Chair Geoffry Kurtz remarked on the rarity of debating and passing such a resolution at the chapter meeting level. Members across titles, including multiple tenured faculty, spoke about the importance of supporting $7K, not just as a moral issue, but also as a strategic one: adjunct precarity, after all, is simply the principle means of imposing austerity on the entire university system. When adjuncts lose in the short term, everybody loses in the end.
The Executive Committee at BMCC had prepared a resolution, inspired by the initiatives at the Graduate Center and Bronx Community College, calling for $7K to be won by “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike if and when such an action would unite PSC members and help the PSC win $7K.” Now, we at CUNY Struggle have earned something of a reputation for intransigence bordering on impracticality. But we were happy to support this resolution in the spirit of compromise without which a strike would be impossible. When the resolution hit the floor, however, the rank-and-file had other ideas. Multiple members unconnected to CUNY Struggle spoke up to say they were not satisfied with its indirect “waffling.” There was broad support for an amendment to state a clear commitment to striking for $7K. Therefore a motion was called and passed overwhelmingly in support of “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike.” Period.
Today BMCC took a stand for CUNY’s future. Which campus is next?
The strike wave continues to roll through CUNY! On October 11th, the Bronx Community College chapter of PSC voted unanimously to support 7K or Strike! for the coming contract. This means if adjuncts don’t get 7K per course, we say shut it down! Roughly forty-five members came out for this exciting meeting, many bringing colleagues and friends who don’t normally attend PSC events. Discussion pointed to the need for strategy and prudence in approaching a strike. Nobody was kidding themselves about the magnitude of the task we are setting before ourselves when we say 7K or Strike! When it came time to vote, however, the result was unanimous. We understand the difficulties ahead, but we know with enough preparation, smarts and solidarity we can win!
BCC is the second chapter to endorse 7K or Strike, and similar resolutions are coming up at Hunter College and Borough of Manhattan Community College in the coming weeks. Who will be next? If you’d like to bring this to your campus, get in touch!
This year, the PSC has prioritized winning $ 7,000 as the minimum salary for anyone teaching a three hour course. Over the years, many full-time faculty wonder why the PSC has put so much time and energy into championing the demands of adjunct faculty. Many believe that gains, like $7K/course for part-timers come at the expense of salary increases for the full-timers.
This argument is wrong—the existence of a low-cost part-time faculty undermines the salaries of full-time faculty.
Unions exist to stop the destructive competition among employees which allows employers to cut wages, increase work load and and generally degrade the conditions of labor. In the past forty years, corporate and government employers’ have created multi-“tiered” workforces—workers doing the same work who are paid lower wages. The result is a downward spiral of wages for all employees.
The growth of a low wage part-time faculty is simply higher education’s version of the “two-tier” workforce. Low salaries for adjuncts mean lower salaries for all of us. It is no accident that CUNY has both one of the highest percentages of underpaid adjuncts and some of the lowest salaries for public sector full-time faculty. Winning $7K/course puts a floor on salaries, and gives CUNY an incentive to hire more full-time, tenure-track, rather than part-time and contingent, faculty.
Winning $7K will require all of us—full-timers and part-timers—to mobilize over the coming months. We all need show up at demonstrations for $7K and vote at our chapter meetings for resolutions supporting a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer $7K at the bargaining table.
An earlier version appeared in the BMCC faculty newsletter The Gadfly.
The red wave has come to New York City! Earlier this week, rank-and-file workers and students from across the CUNY system descended on Wall Street to deliver a clear message: $7k or strike! For the newcomer, this means the CUNY community is demanding a $7k per course minimum wage for CUNY adjuncts in the coming union contract, and if we don’t get it, we’re ready to shut it down!
It was a beautiful sight. The sterile sarcophagi of Wall Street echoed with chants of “7k or strike!“ and “Education is a right; strike strike strike!” CUNY workers from across titles joined with students and other working class New Yorkers to affirm our shared commitment to do whatever it takes to win $7k the coming contract. This was nothing short of a dress rehearsal for a CUNY-wide strike of workers and students, which we must prepare for in case the PSC fails to win $7k at the bargaining table. And just like the red wave that is remaking teachers’ organizing all across the US, the movement at CUNY will be led from the bottom-up, by the people with the most on the line! It’s no coincidence that the small handful of PSC members who oppose the message of 7k or Strike!all seem to hold some elected office.
Thanks to the state Freedom of Information Law, the New York Times has obtained “the lobbying emails Cuomo fought hard to keep secret.” Among the revelations is that the Cuomo administration demands total subordination from public university trustees. In an email to Jim Malatras, a top Cuomo administration official, now-disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe explained the governor’s expectations with regard to trustees.
Howe sought to remind board members that “The Board and the Chamber” (i.e. the Governor’s office) “are one and the same.” A dissenting trustee should know that “the governor and you expect him to carry the chamber’s water, and if he can’t do that day to day, he should rethink his commitment, and you’ll work with him to find a diplomatic way to move off the board.” Any break with the “family” headed by the governor is, in Howe’s words, “totally unacceptable.”
For those of us who care about CUNY, this news would be another drop in the putrid sea that is the Cuomo administration, if it weren’t for the ongoing contract negotiations between the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), CUNY administration, and our ultimate boss, the governor. The most important demand in these negotiations is a $7,000 per course minimum salary for the adjuncts who teach over half of all classes at CUNY.
It is a safe bet that the austerity-minded Cuomo does not intend to double the salaries of thousands of CUNY adjuncts, even if that is the only way for them to approach a modicum of dignity in their working lives. Yet a strategy emerging from an influential corner of the PSC purports to enlist the Board of Trustees and the college presidents, whom the Board selects and oversees, in a campaign to convince state lawmakers to buck the governor’s wishes and carve out a chunk of money in the state budget to fund the $7K demand.
But given this airtight embrace between the governor and trustees, is there any reason to expect they should suddenly want to flip on their patron? This latest news suggests that if $7K is to become a reality in this contract, it may take more than moral appeals.
The Janus v. AFSCME decision has come down this morning. As expected, the right wing of the Supreme Court, bolstered by Donald Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, has delivered a serious blow to public-sector unions like the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) by outlawing the agency fee on spurious First Amendment grounds.
What does Janus mean? As Celine McNicholas explains in thisvideo, under current law unions must represent—in other words, spend money to defend—all workers in a bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not they choose to join the union. In a 1977 decision called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the US Supreme Court ruled that unions may charge non-members a fee to help cover these costs and to prevent non-members from “free riding,” or reaping the benefits of union membership while allowing their colleagues to pick up the tab. There is no question that non-members benefit from the union’s efforts on their behalf—indeed, unions raise wages not only for those covered by their agreements, but inwholly non-unionized sectors as well.