Far Short of $7K: The MOA Explained

(Revised on 27 October 2019.)

For two years our union has been fighting for an adjunct minimum wage of $7K per three-credit course. The rank-and-file $7K or Strike campaign has led this struggle, joined by many newly activated members. Yet without even considering a strike authorization vote or an escalating campaign of direct action, the PSC executives have rushed to settle a contract. The Memorandum of Agreement was announced yesterday. Although it is touted as a “historic” “breakthrough,” as soon as you dig through the legalese, you realize that the gains are small, the costs are high, and we are nowhere near $7K.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Breakthrough on adjunct pay—the biggest gain in equity in the union’s history”

FACT #1: STILL NO LIVING WAGE FOR ADJUNCTS

The first four years of the contract would bring extra work and 2% annual wage increases to adjuncts, but local NYS inflation exceeds 2% and therefore real wages will fall during this period: adjuncts will continue to make poverty wages. In the fifth year, there is a significant one-time raise of about $750 for a three-credit course. But this only brings the pay for a three-credit class to $5,500, which is poverty pay today and by 2022 will be totally inadequate. The demand in the PSC bargaining agenda was for adjuncts to receive a living wage and parity with a full-time lecturer by starting at a minimum of $7,000 per three-credit course now. The contract falls completely short of its goal, and the fact that it delays until 2022 the jump to $5,500 per course adds insult to injury.

FACT #2: MODEST GAINS IN YEAR 3 OF CONTRACT CREATE EXTRA WORK

Beginning in spring 2020, adjuncts would be paid for one weekly office hour per class. This is part of the contract’s pathway to a pay rate of $5,500 per three-credit course in fall 2022. But the proposed contract would leave the door wide open for the administration to assign extra work during these “office hours,” including staffing tutoring centers, writing centers, and advising students through labyrinthine course selection systems. This modest gain, then, should be called out for what it is: a workload increase masquerading as a pay raise.

FACT #3: SMALL JUMP TO $5,500 IN YEAR 5 COMES AT THE COST OF ELIMINATING SALARY STEPS

In fall 2022, the agreement would eliminate salary steps for adjuncts, replacing them with a single hourly rate for each title. Salary steps are the one guarantee of regular cost-of-living increases, which are especially crucial during those years – so common for PSC members – when we are working without a contract. These salary steps also compensate adjuncts for seniority. By flattening the steps, adjuncts at the top of their salary schedules wouldn’t benefit at all from the one-time raise in the last year, since their rate would already exceed $5,500 per course. Flattening the steps would also ultimately widen the pay gap between adjuncts and full-timers that we are supposed to be opposing. PSC officials are suddenly arguing that salary steps are unfair, while title differentials that lead to major disparities based on credentials and on difficult-to-attain merit assessments are apparently still fine. Every other title has salary steps – why shouldn’t adjuncts? 

FACT #4: ALMOST NO ONE WILL BE MAKING $6,750 PER 3-CREDIT COURSE IN 2022

At first glance, the 2022 wage scale ranging from $5,500 per course for Adjunct Lecturers to $6,750 for Adjunct Professors sounds impressively close to $7K. But 70% of adjuncts are Adjunct Lecturers, and only 2% hold the top title of Adjunct Professor that will be paid close to $7K in fall 2022. By that point, Barnard adjuncts will be making a minimum of $10K per course and Fordham adjuncts, $8K. For the rest of CUNY adjuncts, there is little hope of advancement to higher tiers and therefore $7K remains out of reach.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Salary increases across the board of more than 10% by November 2022”

FACT: ALL OUR WAGES ARE STAGNATING

Despite the PSC’s claim of achieving “historic” gains, the across-the-board wage increases that add up to 10.41% from our last raise in April 2017 to November 2022 would simply maintain the austerity “pattern-bargaining” that Cuomo has imposed on NYS unions. PSC executives were offered these 2% raises at the very beginning of bargaining; accepting only 2% at the end of bargaining means they failed to budge the city and state negotiators. This is nothing to brag about. The nation-wide inflation rate has hovered around 2% the past few years and local NYS inflation has been higher, so these raises barely keep up with inflation. They certainly do not keep pace with the cost-of-living increases in New York City – rent alone increases about 4% per year. These raises fall well short of what was in the leadership’s own initial bargaining agenda: 5% compounded per year. This “raise” is actually a pay cut in real dollars.

PSC EXECS SAY: “No give-backs”

FACT #1: THIS CONTRACT INCLUDES A 10-MONTH PAY FREEZE

Our contract expired on December 1, 2017, but the 2% annual retroactive raises only go back to October 2018. That means we gave up 10 months of pay increases to pay for this contract.

FACT #2: THE LOSS OF STEP INCREASES IS A GIVE-BACK

They can spin it however they want, but the elimination of step increases in 2022 is an epic give-back that will keep us paying for this contract’s raises well into the future, and will widen the pay gap between adjunct and full-time faculty.

FACT #3: UNTENURED FACULTY LOSE REASSIGNED TIME

Our bosses shamelessly tried to fracture even the full-time faculty into tiers, and the bargaining team let them: under the proposed MOA, reassigned time for untenured faculty would be reduced from 24 to 18 hours in their first five years, with the missing 6 hours postponed until, and if, they receive tenure. Since CUNY never received extra funding to pay for the last contract’s courseload reduction for full-timers, the cost of that will instead now be borne by new, untenured faculty, not to mention by adjuncts whose classes will be cancelled, by the faculty and students who will see their class sizes increase, and by students who will see their tuition rise.

FACT #4: BUDGET CUTS AND TUITION HIKES ARE PAYING FOR THIS CONTRACT

The PSC has so far failed to show how the contract’s economic gains were made to fit into CUNY’s budget. How many adjuncts would benefit from the contract’s raises? How many will lose one or more courses this spring when massive budget cuts hit all CUNY campuses, leading to hundreds of course cancellations and setting back student graduation rates? In 2021, when annual $200 “rational tuition” increases end, will more of the burden be shifted to students in the form of further tuition hikes?

PSC EXECS SAY: “Huge strides toward addressing key issues that [grad students] prioritized”

FACT: GRAD STUDENTS’ REAL ISSUES REMAIN UNADDRESSED

For graduate employees, this contract holds out the possibility of extending individual graduate assistantships from five years to seven, but such extensions are not guaranteed and there is no mechanism for enforcing them. Similarly, language about providing health insurance to unfunded doctoral students merely sets aside funding and forms a committee to discuss the matter. Meanwhile, the MOA falls silent on the administration’s practice of assigning graduate students additional work and using their stipends as compensation, circumventing contractual workload limitations. Before bargaining, 600 grad students were polled on their contract demands and the number one demand was $7K. This was not won in the contract.

PSC EXECS SAY: “Additional salary increases for equity”

FACT #1: CLT RAISES FAR BELOW WHAT WAS ASKED, ADJUNCT CLTS GET LEFT OUT

CLTs are some of the lowest paid titles in the bargaining unit and are paid far less than their K-12 public school counterparts. CLT leaders demanded lump sum raises to their salary schedules with comparable raises for adjunct CLTs, but what was actually won falls as much as $7,500 short for the lowest CLT tier. Meanwhile, there were no raises beyond the 2% annual cost-of-living increase for adjunct CLTs, widening the two tiers in the CLT chapter.

FACT #2: NON-TEACHING ADJUNCTS LEFT BEHIND

Non-teaching adjuncts didn’t win any raises above the annual 2%, either. Worse yet, the fixed 60% ratio between teaching adjunct pay and NTA pay would be eliminated, allowing NTA wages to decline further in real terms. What equity are the PSC execs talking about?

PSC EXECS SAY: “Improved funding and firm time frames for HEO differential awards”

FACT: HEO RAISES ARE AS UNACHIEVABLE NOW AS BEFORE

Many HEOs are stuck at the top step of their salary schedule. A touted “gain” of the last contract stipulated that those HEOs were eligible for a $2500 raise called an assignment differential based on excellent performance (i.e., merit pay) or increased responsibilities (i.e., speed-up). Yet the power to award or deny differentials was given entirely to the college labor-management committees and presidents. The proposed MOA fails to fix these problems. The administration would retain full discretion, including the ability to exploit budgetary considerations to deny pay differentials. Meanwhile, there is no attempt to simply add more steps to the salary schedule or change the HEO series into a promotional line.


Public school teachers across the country are reminding us month after month – and now with the teachers’ strike in Chicago, day after day – that impoverishing public education is a political decision that needs a political solution. The backroom bargaining, futile lobbying, and performative protesting by New Caucus PSC executives will never overturn austerity. That approach will never get us living wages, real job security, reasonable class sizes, and free tuition. Only by mobilizing ourselves, our students, and our communities to strike for educational justice can we force the city and state to respect CUNY and respect public higher education. We urge you to vote “NO!” on this sell-out contract so that we as a union can pivot to mobilizing for a strike. $7K or strike!

8 thoughts on “Far Short of $7K: The MOA Explained”

  1. @James, the $80/hour figure is very misleading, as it only refers only to hours spent in the classroom. Most work takes place outside the classroom: designing the class, weekly prep, grading, meeting and corresponding with students. Adjuncts who calculate the actual hours they work often report making somewhere around minimum wage.

  2. I’m an adjunct and view the raise as a major gain. What is CUNY Stuggle anyway? Are you Trotskyists?

  3. The union fat cats have done it again — misrepresented what the “contract” is all about. Rather than a historic contract, it looks as if many instructors will actually take a pay cut. We should make concerted efforts to prepare for a serious strike. If left to the union reps and their administrator buddies, we will just go further down.

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