Reports are trickling in from the PSC’s June 23rd Delegate Assembly, at which the delegates voted to recommend that the membership accept the proposed contract negotiated with CUNY management earlier this month. Glenn Kissack is one of three members of the union’s Executive Council to have voted against the agreement. We reprint below Kissack’s statement explaining why he voted against the proposed contract.
Personal Statement About the Proposed Contract
by Glenn Kissack
I am one of the three members of the Executive Council who voted against recommending the proposed memorandum of agreement. At the EC we were allowed ample time to present our doubts about the contract, and we in turn listened to the arguments in favor of acceptance.
Those who voted to accept are our comrades, people who care for the members and devoted considerable time and effort towards winning a decent contract. We’ve marched and rallied together, been arrested together, spent hours talking to members about strike authorization. No other union we know of has been as active as the PSC. The principal leaders have sacrificed their personal lives, put in 18-hour days and withstood mean-spirited threats from the Governor. Despite all the sacrifices and determination, the proposed agreement—while containing some gains—is an austerity contract, not the transformative one that members hoped for.
No movement towards salary equity for adjuncts
I have good friends who are adjuncts teaching 12 credits a semester at two campuses, working during the summer and still having trouble paying their bills. No union committed to social justice, as we are, should accept this. This agreement will widen the gap between full-time and adjunct professors. And that’s not just bad for the adjuncts—it’s bad for everyone because the expanding availability of ever-cheaper contingent labor (relative to full-timers) is the foundation of the austerity regime of the cost-cutters. Under this regime, departments must pare budgets and have fewer full-time positions for new faculty, while conditions worsen for the full-timers who remain.
Salary increases that don’t keep up with inflation
You’ll hear different numbers mentioned, but the last time we had a contractual salary increase was October 20, 2009. What has inflation done to those salaries? The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an inflation calculator here. If you put in $100 for 2009, the price in 2016 is $111.98. So prices increased nearly 12% over those seven years. Yet the agreement provides for only an 8.5% increase to date. So our salaries will not have kept pace with inflation. There’s another 1.5% in 2017, but inflation nationally is now more than 2% and climbing.
Moreover, there are respected economists who argue that the rate of inflation in NYC has been higher than elsewhere. According to The Economist, “the cost of living in New York has risen by about 23% over the past five years.”
Finally, there’s the 4% that other state unions received in 2010 and which the PSC rightfully demanded. For an assistant professor making $81,000 that 4% raise would have provided almost $20,000 in retroactive pay. Instead, we’ll receive zero percent for 2011.
Promises under austerity
Certain key parts of the agreement are mere promises, without any contractual mechanism for guaranteeing they happen. They include the labor-management committee to “develop a plan and identify resources” to reduce the annual teaching workload by 3 hours, as well as the possibility of $2500 salary increases for HEOs stuck at the top salary step for their title and who take on “increased responsibility.”
Our salaries are scheduled to be 8.5% higher in September. However, the senior colleges received only a 0.9% budget increase for this coming year. Given the resulting strain on budgets, what’s the likelihood of CUNY granting many HEOs the $2500 increases they deserve? And what’s the likelihood that CUNY will be able to implement a costly reduction in teaching workload? And isn’t there the danger that the lure of $2500 for more work will result in the speedup of HEOs?
Preparing for a Strike
The alternative to accepting the flawed offer from management is to prepare for a strike. As someone who was on strike with the UFT in 1975, I know that strikes aren’t easy. Success is not guaranteed, and what is guaranteed is that the Governor and the Mayor will ask the courts to levy heavy fines and eliminate automatic dues checkoff. The PSC would sustain a heavy hit.
But the cold reality is that there is no other way of staving off contracts that impose the same austerity pattern other unions accepted without striking. And the truth is that millions of public workers – teachers, welfare and sanitation workers, postal workers and others – defied laws forbidding them to strike in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and won major gains, despite the penalties they incurred. (Summer reading recommendation: Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today by Joe Burns.)
We had a 92% strike authorization vote. It is true that some of those yes voters do not want to strike. But that vote was a strong foundation to build for a strike. It’s clear that in the fall the CUNY Board of Trustees will ask the legislature for another round of tuition hikes, and this time the legislators will say yes. So this fall will be a time when students begin to organize campaigns against their being forced to pay for the lack of state investment in CUNY. This would have been a perfect opportunity for us to forge a strong alliance with students to challenge the Governor’s austerity regime. I think we’ll regret missing this opportunity.
Whatever is decided this evening, we’ll unite for the battles ahead. Two thing we should consider:
- Initiating a labor campaign against the anti-strike provisions of the Taylor Law. Other industrialized countries—France, Italy, Canada, etc.—permit strikes of public workers. The International Labor Organization says that strikes of most public workers should be allowed. What if we only endorsed candidates who pledge to work to eliminate the Taylor Law penalties for striking?
- Beginning a “Fight for 7k a Course” campaign modeled on the national “Fight for 15” campaign – winning broad support for ending the outrage of “professors in poverty.”