A Little History of PSC Pledges to Adjuncts, or, Our Leaders Weren’t Always So Timid About Dismantling the Two-Tier System

by Ruth Wangerin

If adjuncts want documentation to cite in lobbying for a significant pay increase in the contract currentCUOI5h5WcAA13u2-640x360ly in negotiation/mediation, they might refer to the following PSC records from 2004, 2007, and 2010.


In 2004, the PSC was committed to parity for adjuncts in income and working conditions. They worried about the impact of the 9/6 rule on adjuncts’ livelihoods and promised to debate and discuss it fully. They even passed a resolution at the Delegate Assembly in Sept. 2004 to continue discussing the 9/6 issue:

Whereas the achievement of parity for adjuncts in income and professional working conditions is the contractual goal of the PSC, and

Whereas injury to one group is injury to all in a fully committed union of workers, and

Whereas improvement of the 9/6 rule has long been deferred, a more sensitive and sensible adjunct workload policy could make a favorable difference in how adjuncts view the union, and

Whereas the May 2004 Delegate Assembly meeting ended with assurance of further discussion at this meeting on the 9/6 matter, now therefore

Resolved, that the PSC undertake a discussion on solidarity across the ranks during Campus Equity Week and the formation of a working group to start discussing adjunct workload (9/6 policy), but in privacy.  


At a mass meeting of nearly a thousand members on Oct 30, 2007, Barbara Bowen pledged that one of the PSC priorities for the 2010 contract would be to “achieve adjunct salary parity.”

At that mass meeting, the union laid out a plan for a 3-phase, 3-contract strategy that would “fix CUNY’s most serious problems,” including “an adjunct labor system that damages the entire University” (Clarion, Nov-Dec 2007, p. 3). http://archive.psc-cuny.org/Clarion/ClarionNovDec07.pdf  

Barbara Bowen spoke with inspiration and conviction to an enthusiastic crowd:

“If you hear no other message tonight, I ask you to hear that the scandalous system of adjunct labor hurts every single person in this room. Not only does the system of cheap labor diminish the moral stature of the University and deprive out students…, it helps to depress the salaries and working conditions of full-timers. The adjunct issue is not an adjunct issue; it’s a structural problem, and until we organize unapologetically to solve it, we will be unable to make dramatic progress on salaries and working conditions for all” (Nov-Dec Clarion, p. 11). http://archive.psc-cuny.org/Clarion/ClarionNovDec07.pdf

One of the “Priorities for Phase III” would be salary parity. Job security for long-time adjuncts was supposed to be addressed in Phase II. Looking back, we see that job security wasn’t achieved in the 2007 contract, which is probably why Bowen’s 2010 statement about the current (Phase III) contract included job security along with pay parity as goals for adjuncts.

Bowen earlier had cited Rutgers’ wage increase over 4 years at Rutgers of 18% for full-time faculty and 36% for part-time faculty, a clear effort to reduce wage inequity (Barbara Bowen, Sept. 2007 Clarion, p. 11).


At a packed meeting on Nov. 4, 2010, the Delegate Assembly passed a resolution on contract demands for the contract now being negotiated/mediated. Number 3 applies to adjuncts.

  1. Movement toward Adjunct Salary Parity: The University shall make substantial, measurable progress toward pay parity for part-time teaching adjuncts, based on proportional parity with the full-time Lecturer title, through one or a combination of the following measures: increased hourly pay, longevity increments, an initiative for conversion of teaching adjuncts who have met appropriate eligibility requirements to full-time positions. (Article 24)

[PSC Bargaining Demands, Dec. 2010 Clarion, p. 6 (A2).]

In that same issue of the Clarion, Barbara Bowen explained:

The bargaining agenda we propose grows from members’ views and keeps faith with the four priorities I announced three years ago for this phase of negotiations: continued progress on salaries, a path to advancement for HEOs, a restructured workload for full-time faculty, and significant movement toward job security and parity for adjuncts (Clarion, Dec. 2010, p. 5 (A1)).

“Movement toward” is not the same as “achievement of” pay parity. Bowen’s rewriting of history only happened after a spirited debate about watering down the original 2007 pledge. There was even a vote on a proposed amendment.

And today? 2016

In the 2010 Clarion, there is an explanation about how the DA made the decision to adopt the language of “movement toward pay parity” rather than “achieve pay parity.” However, there has been no corresponding explanation, no democratic process, to justify delaying pay equity to some future contract, though there are many indications that this is what is happening behind closed doors.

There is in fact a great danger in further delay. Now that the two-tier system has been allowed to remain in place, unchallenged, for so many years, many union members are beginning to see adjuncts as just another of several diverse constituencies within the union that each push for as much as they can get but in the end need to compromise. Some perfectly nice full-timers believe that it’s not adjuncts’ “turn” now, that most of what the union has done lately has been for adjuncts, such as covering (a minority of) adjuncts under a health insurance plan.

When challenged about the delay in pushing for pay parity for adjuncts, the PSC executive council has no DA resolution to point to. Instead, they give excuses:

  • Only a few thousand adjuncts “need” the money (as if it weren’t the union’s business that the university is able to hire instructors for bargain basement wages).
  • Many adjuncts, when asked (in a pseudo-survey for which documentation has not been forthcoming), told union officials that their one top wish was job security. The fact that in 2010 Barbara Bowen was able to say the words “job security and parity for adjuncts” in one sentence completely discredits this excuse.
  • Adjuncts have already been given parity in health insurance, which amounts to a pay increase. Yet it isn’t parity. The March 2008 Clarion (pp. 6-7) ran a feature exposing all the ways in which the health insurance for adjuncts was not equal to that for full-timers, e.g., the lack of family coverage (even for adjuncts teaching 15 credits), the fact that coverage ceased when you got too sick to teach 6 credits, the fact that you couldn’t take it with you into retirement.
  • The most telling excuse is that when there’s not enough money to go around, it’s full-timers whose needs must be satisfied if they are going to be expected to ratify the contract. Allowing the austerity and divide-and-rule strategy of management to succeed in determining union priorities is a total capitulation.

It’s time to remind our union leaders that they weren’t always so timid about the importance of solidarity and dismantling the two-tier system.

2 thoughts on “A Little History of PSC Pledges to Adjuncts, or, Our Leaders Weren’t Always So Timid About Dismantling the Two-Tier System”

  1. Ruth’s analysis is a welcome reminder that struggles from below — like struggles in general — are the spearhead of greater democratization of the university apparatus

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