The Fight Against Austerity at CUNY Continues

In the four weeks since the Memorandum of Agreement was announced, we have witnessed a groundswell of energy from the rank & file in our fight against a powerful machine consisting of PSC leadership, CUNY management, and Governor Cuomo’s austerity regime. It was truly inspiring to witness the energy and enthusiasm of thousands of members and our students calling out this contract for what it is: a capitulation to the status quo.

PSC executives led a disinformation campaign (paid for with our dues!), buying ads and directing staffers to get out a yes vote on a contract that was, in reality, nowhere near historic. Our union’s leadership attempted to stifle discussion by shortening the voting window, censoring social media discussion, and ignoring rank-and-file demands for more contract town halls and meetings. They shrugged off the material needs of the most exploited members, and spread fear about the outcome of a no vote. Despite all this, we succeeded in creating online and face-to-face spaces for horizontal rank and file mobilization. This was truly historic. 

We knew this would be a tough battle, and we knew that many members would choose to ratify the contract simply because they felt disarmed, demobilized, and continually bombarded by leadership with the false notion that this contract was “the best we could do.” While we did not achieve the 51% vote required to reject the contract, we have gained a community of comrades, colleagues, and friends who have committed to building oppositional strategies and resisting neoliberal logic and complacency. Our social media platforms have received hundreds of new followers and posts sharing justified outrage, frustration, and solidarity. Solidarity with students, most powerfully expressed with the Free CUNY campaign’s support for $7K or Strike, has shown that the struggle to improve our learning and working conditions are inextricably linked. We would like to thank everyone who has joined the struggle against the forces of disinvestment and quiet resignation that have kept CUNY down for too long.

The 7K or Strike campaign is looking ahead to broaden our vision for CUNY. Despite their promises, we have no confidence that PSC leadership will mount the kind of campaign necessary to confront the crush of austerity in the next contract negotiation. The 2019-2020 budget for the PSC which was passed last week showed no increases to the organizing budget, a sign that PSC does not intend to do anything differently to activate the membership. They will almost certainly hew to the same defeatist strategy that produced the poverty contract that was just ratified. We will not sit back and wait for them to demobilize us. We will continue to organize across CUNY to build an even greater rank-and-file movement – one that is capable of winning a decent contract for ALL members and a people’s university for the city of New York. We invite all PSC members to contact campus stewards from 7K or Strike as we plan the next stage of our fight. 

In solidarity and continued struggle,
$7K or Strike

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!

Strike Authorization Campaign Resolutions Pass at Four CUNY Campuses

The votes in favor of the Strike Authorization Campaign Resolution (hereafter SACR) on Thursday at both Bronx Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community college were nearly unanimous. In the photo above, BMCC Chapter Chair Kathleen Offenholley proudly raises her hand in favor of the vote that could mark a sweeping shift in strategy from the lobbying, nonconfrontational, legalistic tactics that characterize the PSC central’s general approach to union activism.

The SACR was passed at BMCC with two minor amendments and will be forwarded to the Executive Council of the PSC and to the Delegate Assembly. Four campuses–add to the list Queens College and the Graduate Center–have pasted the resolution so far this fall, concretizing the wave of interest that began last year when 11 campuses voted to endorse a $7KOS resolution. Votes are being scheduled at other campuses in the coming months.

The campaign lays out a coordinated practical strategy that encompasses financial, interpersonal, social, and material organization in the lead-up to a strike. Mass education on the importance of a strike, food drives and financial assistance, public relations committees, additional adjunct liaisoning, and broad faculty-student solidarity will all be needed in the coming months after the PSC releases what promises to be woefully inadequate contract proposal, as we take action to fight it.

In direct contradistinction to a climate of austerity, of pitting part-timers against full-timers, and students against staff, the SACR pushes for a climate of unity and support, stepping in for overworked adjunct liaisons and drawing on individual strengths to craft a cohesive and fundamentally pragmatic campaign historically proven to be the most effective way to achieve fair and equitable working conditions.

Over 40 people were present at BMCC over the course of the three-hour meeting, about average for a BMCC chapter meeting. 7K or Strike activists are becoming widely known as the most feisty, mobilized, energetic, and active participants in union democracy, and full-timers and part-timers alike have expressed their support of the movement from afar. Many adjuncts are barred from attending procedural meetings by the scheduling demands and overwork that create the need for a strike in the first place. No one showed up at BMCC to oppose the vote everyone was informed in advance was happening, and no one spoke out against it.

Instead, there was a great discussion of how to build support for a fully funded contract with $7K for adjuncts, and we also passed a resolution calling on the Executive Council to immediately begin preparing for a large rally in front of the Governor’s NYC offices to demand more funding for our contract and a tuition-free university.

Support for a strike has been rising across titles this semester as we face almost two years without a contract and PSC leadership continues to stall and prevaricate on the status of negotiations. At the well-attended Grad Center chapter meeting in September, the vote was 65 for and 16 against, which included a number of HEOs and librarians voting in favor of SACR. Members were perhaps incensed by the so-called “contract update” initially given at the meeting by Andrea Vásquez, who arguably did more to promote the necessity of a strike authorization campaign than anyone else who spoke.

Next week there is yet another Delegate Assembly meeting that looks to be devoid of any new contract proposal (known as the Memorandum of Agreement, or MOA) from the bargaining committee. As each day passes without a contract, more and more rank & file members are recognizing the viability of the SACR and the likely necessity of a strike to secure a fully funded contract that offers no less than $7k/course for adjuncts and refuses to allow gains at the expense of student tuition hikes. After all, even PSC President Barbara Bowen remarked at the last DA, “don’t just vote on personal affiliations, but what’s on offer and whether it’s the best for CUNY.”

If you would like to get involved in helping us build the strike authorization campaign, including a strike authorization committee, please contact 7KOS at 7korstrike@gmail.com.

Fall is here and still no contract!

This is a repost of an email sent out to PSC members and adjuncts earlier today:

Welcome back! As the fall semester begins, we wanted to reach out to you with some updates about the current contract negotiations and to encourage you to join us in the struggle to win a good contract for all PSC members that includes a minimum $7K per three-credit course for adjunct faculty.

As many of you may know, our contract expired nearly two years ago. Our union’s elected bargaining team has since failed to secure any increase in funding from either the CIty or the State, and current funding levels do not even keep pace with inflation—much less the cost of $7K per course for adjuncts. So now our union is stuck fighting for crumbs from an ever-shrinking pie to bring our wages closer to parity with full-time lecturers.

Unfortunately, instead of calling on the full power of the membership to keep the pressure on Albany, PSC-CUNY leaders have urged us to sit back and wait for the bargaining team to do its work. Meanwhile, the leadership have been silent on the recently approved tuition hikes that management claimed were needed to pay for our contract demands. While we don’t know what’s being discussed in the closed-door bargaining sessions, many of us fear a compromise that will not get us to $7K and may even deepen the two-tier system by expanding pay gaps among different categories of adjuncts, dividing our union even further. Since PSC-CUNY has declined to bargain over class sizes, we are also concerned that framing any increase for adjuncts around productivity, as the bargaining team has done, opens the door to making us work more, when we are already working far more than the hours we are paid for.

We know that a strike is a big undertaking, especially when the Taylor Law threatens us with serious penalties, but we also know that until we really stand up together to fight for a fully-funded CUNY and a fair contract, the budget will keep getting slashed and our working conditions—which are our students’ learning conditions—will keep getting worse.

$7K or Strike is currently mobilizing for a series of special chapter meetings and town halls over the coming weeks to discuss the contract crisis and to put forward resolutions calling for a strike authorization campaign.

We need your help to make this happen. In order to make quorum, we will need every adjunct who supports going on strike for $7K to be at their chapter meetings ready to vote yes.

To get involved, contact your campus steward or $7K or Strike.

And please join the $7K or Strike contingent at this year’s Labor Day Parade, this Saturday, September 7, to promote a strike authorization campaign and to build solidarity with rank-and-file members of other unions. Meet us at 10am with the PSC contingent on 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Look for the $7K or Strike t-shirts. The parade is scheduled to start moving at 10:15am.

In Solidarity and Struggle,
$7K or Strike!
7korstrike.org

Rutgers Adjuncts Rank-and-File Caucus Stands United with CUNY Adjuncts’ $7K or Strike Campaign

We are honored to reprint this statement from the Rutgers Adjuncts Rank-and-File Caucus in solidarity with the campaign for 7K or Strike, which also outlines strategic imperatives for a radical academic labor movement, drawn from their important work at Rutgers. As the professional labor bureaucrats and aspiring movement managers congratulate themselves for “revolutionary” austerity contracts and attempt to move “beyond the rank-and-file strategy,” this is the kind of vision we need!

The Rutgers Adjuncts Rank-and-File Caucus applauds adjuncts at CUNY and their progressive $7k or Strike campaign. Redress of adjunctification must be centered in any progressive movement within academia, particularly when adjuncts, graduate workers, and tenured faculty bargain side by side — to do any less is a rejection of solidarity and an acceptance of the corporate hierarchical status quo.

Adjunctified professors deserve more than to be paid a pittance at any college or university, but it is especially unethical that adjuncts who live and work in New York City, the world’s economic hub, receive poverty wages. $7,000 per course should be the absolute minimum for adjunct professors at CUNY; anything less than $7,000 fails to provide a basic living wage and does not create equal working conditions.

Like adjunct experiences across this nation from Rutgers to Tulane, the present system at CUNY is untenable. We call upon the tenured faculty, students, and CUNY management to recognize the fundamental need of their professoriate to be paid respectable wages (at least $7,000 per course). We also encourage PSC CUNY to learn from the lessons of Rutgers’ recent contract ratifications: as you continue to mobilize and bargain, recognize that a win that does not meet the needs of your most vulnerable workers falls short of a win and is a hollow victory.

If CUNY management attempts to force a contract on adjuncts via a summer ratification, the Rutgers Adjuncts Rank-and-File Caucus will defend $7k or Strike and endorse a campaign against ratification, as they stood with us during our #RUVotingNO campaign. Adjuncts are stronger when they are united.

Adjunct organizers at CUNY continue to inspire contingent faculty around the country to resist the insidious corporatization of the university as well as the tepid leadership of existing corporate union structures. We look forward to forging new bonds between our respective groups, and fighting together to bring adjunct issues to the forefront of all discussions about higher education.

About the RA-RFC: Established in April 2019, the Rutgers Adjuncts Rank-and-File Caucus is a growing coalition of adjunct professors (PTLs) on all three Rutgers University campuses—New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden—as well as those who teach through Rutgers online and at remote sites. For more information, visit rutgersadjuncts.org.

PSC Rank and file says: NO SUMMER CONTRACT, STRIKE AUTHORIZATION CAMPAIGN NOW

Last Friday afternoon, nearly 80 adjuncts and allies gathered at a meeting of the Committee of Adjuncts and Part-Timers at PSC headquarters to vote on three resolutions proposed by members and to hear from PSC President Barbara Bowen on the state of the contract negotiations.

President Bowen gave a lackluster “update” on the ongoing negotiations, providing no information that hadn’t already been emailed to the membership over a week ago. She reiterated the union’s tired strategy of lobbying Albany. There has been no response from management to the PSC’s sell-out counter-proposal. She claimed, without a shred of evidence, that the union was in a position to pressure the state and the city before the end of the legislative session on June 19th. As a member pointed out during the Q&A, the union, not management, is under pressure in this situation. Vice-President Andrea Vasquez, a longtime labor bureaucrat and former chair of the HEO chapter, used her time on the mic to tamp down expectations, telling members it was not possible to get everything at once and to depict the leadership as the vanguard in the fight for $7K/course for adjuncts.

In sharp distinction to the vague and unmoored leadership strategy, the rank and file delivered three strong resolutions on how to move forward. The first resolution addressed the need to reach out to working class New Yorkers across the city and organize a rally for $7K this fall. It passed nearly unanimously.

Amidst rumors, confirmed at the meeting by President Bowen, that the bargaining team is angling to force through another terrible summer contract, a second resolution called on the Delegate Assembly to postpone or table any vote on a proposed contract until after the summer, until it can guarantee a healthy debate about any proposed contract among all members of the union. Without holding a strike authorization vote, any proposed contract that failed to meet $7K should not be put to members for ratification. It also passed unanimously.

Finally, a third resolution outlined a strike authorization campaign the union could implement. Among many creative ideas, it proposed to convert of the duties of Adjunct Liaisons from simply meeting membership card quotas to organizing toward a strike, and to create an online fundraising platform to build a “militancy fund” to support members during a strike.

The meeting, which was the most highly attended in recent history, starkly revealed the poverty of the union leadership’s strategy. The rank and file are leading the way with a clear strategy, one that fits on a two-sided sheet of paper. Meanwhile, the leadership has already surrendered and is ready to sheepishly take advantage of the summer months to push through a contract that does not get adjuncts to $7K. The rank-and-filers in the room were of one voice, $7K or Strike!